Lady Wildcats hungrier than ever
Senior-stacked soccer team takes to the pitch
The last two years have not felt quite right for the Cassville girls soccer team.
Following an 11-10, district runner-up campaign in the team’s first varsity season in 2019, the Lady Wildcats lost the 2020 season to COVID-19, and the 2021 season was heavily marred by injuries. For this year’s class of graduating seniors, the 2022 season provides one more opportunity to make a mark in girls soccer.
Jake Forste, Cassville soccer coach, said after the turmoil of the last two years, he hopes the Lady Wildcats can get back to what they do best — winning.
“I’d like to see us get back to our winning ways this spring,” he said. “Last year was pretty brutal with injuries — easily the worst injury situation in my combined 11 seasons as a varsity coach. At one point, we had 25 girls on the roster but suited up only 14 for a conference game (eleven were out due to injury).”
Forste said if injuries can be avoided, Cassville’s raw athleticism will be on the forefront of opponents’ minds.
“We will be playing at a frantic pace that will be fun to play and fun to watch – and difficult for other teams to match,” Forste said. “We are excited to get back to work. This group is playing with a chip on its shoulder – their 2020 season got taken from them, and last year got derailed by injury. These seniors are hungry and ready to take a big step forward this season.”
The Lady Wildcats seniors will have a heavy hand on the pitch this season, as six returners are anticipated to start.
“Jhandi [Shears] is our engine in the midfield,” Forste said. “She is a returning captain and Neosho County CC soccer commit. Jhandi’s ability to score with both feet and assist her teammates (4 goals, 4 assists last year) will be key to our offensive production this spring. Landry [Parnell] is a returning All-District player who was a first-year soccer player last year. Her pure athleticism and work rate earned her a collegiate spot on Drury’s lacrosse team. She brings a relentlessness and tenacity that sets the tone for our defensive unit.
“Lexie Sanders has really developed this offseason into a reliable goalscorer up top. She is an active duty National Guard member. Her military training coupled with dedication to her craft this offseason has her primed mentally and physically for a big senior year.”
With 4 goals and 2 assists last season, Sanders will be joined by two more seniors and a sophomore in the attack.
“Sanders has played all over the pitch for us but will enter 2022 as a full-time center forward,” Forste said. “She has always played with physicality, but she has worked hard on developing the foot skill to match. She has a quick trigger and will be a tough matchup for any back line. Senior Jasmine Brown was our keeper for the better part of a year and a half, but an upper body injury shifted her out of goal last season. She is very quick, good with both feet, and is becoming a vocal leader for us. We will look to her in a wide attacking role.
“Senior Emilee Mann had 2 goals and 1 assist in 2021. Emilee has the kind of game-breaking speed that every team looks for. We will try and utilize her in the best way possible to get her into open attacking areas. Sophomore Audrey Gosvener is extremely strong and physical. She was a part-time forward in 2021 and scored 1 goal, but she has taken over as the third piece of our attacking trident. She has been staying after most offseason sessions to work on her craft. I think she takes a big step forward in the goal-scoring department.”
Midfield maestros Shears and Parnell will be joined by another sophomore with a family history in Cassville soccer, Emma Berndt.
“Emma had 3 goals and 3 assists in 2021, and we have good chemistry and a lot of talent in the midfield area,” Forste said. “Keeping them healthy and fresh all season will be a priority for us. I anticipate there will be some great competition for the fourth midfield spot.”
Defensively, the same four Lady Wildcats starters as last season will get the nods this year — Ray, Mann, junior Dulce Rivera and sophomore Scotlyn Richardson.
“We’ve also got a few first-year seniors that will compete for key defensive roles in Avery Crain and Jaycie Ertel,” Forste said. “Giving us further depth in the flanks will be freshmen Gracen Hilburn and Isabella Rodriguez Muise. I think we have the most depth on the defensive side of the field, and there will be some high-level competition for starting roles.”
Sophomore Emerson Grossman, a volleyball standout, will take over between the wickets for Cassville.
“An unfortunate injury in goal last season threw her into the fire as a freshman,” Forste said. “She improved with each game and is ready for a full season between the sticks. She is 6 feet tall, has great reach and is growing more and more confident as a goalkeeper. This will be a position of strength for us in 2022.”
Cassville also adds a number of first-time players, including wrestling standouts Annie Moore and Faith James, and other seniors, some first-timers, include Christina Marlowe and Avery Crain.
The Lady Wildcats’ strengths on the field are matched by their strengths off it, as Forste said the team’s chemistry is a huge part of its past success.
“We have great team chemistry with this group and an extremely positive team environment,” he said. “I love our team culture and positivity — that is our biggest asset as a team. It’s a great feeling when first-year soccer players remark on how welcoming our girls are in this department. I think that is a testament to the leaders we’ve had year-in and year-out.
“Wins come and go, but I think we have a culture established that will set us up for long-term success.”
To turn around last year’s 5-21 resume, Cassville hopes to put a greater focus on seemingly the simplest part of the game — scoring goals.
“We had difficulty finishing last year after losing our top scoring weapon to a broken leg early in the season (Maddie Bowyer, who went on to play for St. Charles CC in O’Fallon),” Forste said. “We have dedicated most of our offseason efforts to being clinical in the final third. I am confident we will be improved in this area.”
The Lady Wildcats will open the season at home on March 18-19, hosting the Cassville Varsity Girls Soccer Tourney. The regular-season home opener is on March 28 against Branson at 4:30 p.m.