Catholic High School boys soccer coach Tom Guinn has had quite a run in his two years with the Irish — if you consider two state championships successful, that is.
But as the season opens for the two-time defending state champion Irish, the coach admits year No. 3 will be a completely new challenge.
“The previous two seasons, my role was essentially as a motivator; they knew what they wanted to do, and were determined to do it,” Guinn said of those deep, talented rosters. “My role was making sure they were ready for each game.”
The Irish are one of five high school sports teams in the Ozarks hoping to defend state championships this fall — joining Winona volleyball, Lamar boys cross country, and Webb City and Lamar football.
Practices started last week for all fall sports, but the preseason slate for non-football sports is looking more and more like the gridiron preparations each year.
Just like in football, teams in other fall sports now have to undergo a 16-day acclimatization period as they get started.
That meant no long two-a-days the first week, and only starting on day six were full-contact drills allowed.
Also new this year is a preseason jamboree scrimmage night for non-football teams. Catholic soccer, for instance, will play at a jamboree at Kickapoo, meeting Branson and Nixa in short, 35-minute games.
“It’ll be really cool and it will be good to get some scrimmages in,” senior Ryan Randell said. “We’ve been working really hard and getting really fit this preseason, and really hoping on the third title.”
Guinn and the Irish have to replace a lot of talent from last season, including about 80 percent of its scoring, much supplied by all-state graduates Mitchell Moncada and Evan Craig.
Randell, who played with Kansas City club team Billy Goat FC in the offseason, played in the midfield for Catholic last season.
Guinn said Randell is one of a number of Catholic players who will certainly start, but it’s undecided where they will be on the field at this point.
“Quite honestly, we’re a week in and I feel like I’ve already tried a zillion different things,” Guinn said. “We’re still up in the air as to what kind of formation we’re going to play. We have guys who are playing in the backfield last year, and we’re taking a look at him in the midfield, now.
“Everything is up in the air right now. We’re trying to figure out ourselves and (find) our identity.”
Randell will be relied upon as a senior leader, as will Tommy Giovanni and Landon Green, who are returning starters.
Other key players include Blake Weber and new starting goalkeeper Drew Rash. Guinn said sophomores Ben Rash and Ethan Schroeder might be able to contribute consistently.
Winona volleyball also will be looking to defend its state championship, and returns its two Class 1 all-state first-teamers from a year ago, Nola McAfee and Rachel Holthaus.
In Ozark, the volleyball team will look to make it five straight trips to state, including last year’s third-place finish.
Just like in every previous year during the run, though, coach Becky Justis and the Lady Tigers have to replace some major contributors, including first-team all-state libero Bridget Justis and second-team front-line player Jackie Fugate.
Coach Justis has reason for optimism, however, in a group of leading returners led by Ivy Reynolds, Caroline Clifford and Paige Perry.
“This will be our strongest year on offense. The other team won’t be able to focus on any one person,” Justis said. “Teams are going to have to stay matched up with each one on every single rotation. We’re going to see a very exciting team offensively. You’re really going to see a difference.”
Clifford, a junior who has already committed to play for Missouri State University, has some personal goals after missing last season with a knee injury.
“This year, I’m more on fire. I’m trying to regain the player I was before being injured,” she said. “I’m getting my speed and footwork back,” she said. “I’m on track to get to where I was before the injury.”
In Lamar, the boys cross country team, which won state last year in Class 2, returns juniors Kaden Overstreet and Zane Hull, along with sophomore Nicholas Ray. Overstreet took second last season. Many team members also were part of the state champion track and field team from the spring.