It’s good to be an Ozark Tiger these days.
The football team’s run to today’s Class 5 state quarterfinal is the program’s longest since a 2007 semifinal run. That year, the Tigers lost to Lee’s Summit West, today’s host for the 1:30 p.m. quarterfinal.
But the success of coach Mark Bliss’ team is just the latest in a fall filled with championship runs across the board.
Recently, the softball team was the runner-up in the Class 4 state finals, and the volleyball team took third place for the third consecutive year in its fourth straight trip to state.
“It’s been fun,” activities director Mark Caballero said during a phone conversation while driving home from the state swimming finals. “It’s fun when you get to go deep into the playoffs. Those are special times with the kids. Making memories with these kids and helping them grow up.”
When Bliss was hired as coach before last season, that’s what Caballero said piqued his interest in the coach’s candidacy.
Of course, the four state titles in 15 years at six stops didn’t hurt either.
As you would expect, the 10-1 Tigers are having a blast this year. But Bliss said the fun came even before the wins did, and it was kick-started by the senior class.
“They are always joking around in the locker room, but when it’s time to get serious, they do,” Bliss said. “They are a real fun group of kids, and have made it fun for me and my staff.”
The task will be tall today against the top-ranked Titans (11-0), who dispatched Central and Parkview by a combined score of 110-24.
But even with a loss today, the first two years for Bliss have been a success, as the team was 3-6 the year before he arrived, and is 17-4 since.
Caballero said the winning around the building has been contagious.
“It kicks off your school year and the culture is fun,” he said. “The teams and the community are really excited about what we’re doing.”
Continuity in the coaching ranks also helps. The only hire Caballero has had to make this year was replacing long-time wrestling coach Mike Jackson with Jesse Zeugin, who had a successful run at Rogersville and is taking over one of the state’s best programs.
Conner Sutton, a senior swimmer who qualified for state for the second season, said the winning culture is noticeable in the hallways at school.
“People know about it, and you get a fire going,” he said. “Once you get that fire going, everyone gets that spirit about them. It makes you practice a little bit harder, or whatever you’re down in whatever you’re doing, you’ve got that fire to come back.
“Once one team starts to do well, everyone starts to get a little school pride.”