Andrew Pridemore (10) pushes the ball up the field with Noah Ottinger (24) in support during a pre-season tournament last month in Moberly. The SBC soccer team opens the season on August 25 by hosting Kirksville on the new turf high school field in Ashland.

By: Todd Pridemore
Head Boys Soccer Coach Wade Vandelicht and Assistant Coach Jordan (Helms) White officially kicked off practice earlier this month with optimism for the new season. “I am hopeful we can put a good season together,” Vandelicht stated. “We have a lot of work to do, but the boys are up for the challenge. We are growing in our skill and in our maturity every day.” Last fall, the program endured a disappointing season with an 11-11-1 overall record. On the positive side, the 2022 team continued an amazing run of district title match appearances. Last season marked the 14th consecutive season that the program played in the district title contest. “Ever since MSHSAA moved to 8-team districts it has put a huge target on our backs and the pressure to continue to reach championships seems to get harder each year,” noted Vandelicht. “I just want us to be ourselves and represent our school and program the right way.”

Part of being themselves will be for the players to develop a greater reliance on each other and willingness to share the ball, according to the coach. “Our strength this year is going to be our team play,” according to Vandelicht. “We are not in a position this year to look to one player to score or one player to help control the midfield or a keeper to make all the saves. We are going to have to come together and play as a one unit, using everyone’s individual abilities to be effective as a whole. That includes numerous players off the bench. In the end I believe this will be a strength for us, as you can’t just shut down one player if you’re the opposition.”

Twenty-seven players are on the team this season, with six freshmen joining a balanced roster of seven sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Gone from last year’s squad is three-time all-state performer Mason Ahern, who will leave a significant void in leadership and experience, as well as all-region goalkeeper Aidan Bukowsky. Vandelicht remarked, “We don’t have a typical leader this year that everyone looks up to, although we do have players that set the standard and tempo at practice. I think this year is really going to be a true collective effort from all classes. I am hoping that we will have seniors who just lead by example and are consistent and the rest of the team will follow that example.” Some players to watch this season include seniors James Brooks, Noah Ottinger, Andrew Pridemore, and Hunter Wyatt; Juniors Emery & Peyton Arnold, Easton Cooper, Drew Dial, Timothy Lutz, and Alejandro Pagoada; and despite an injury-shortened season a year ago, talented sophomore Blake Nichols should also have opportunities to contribute – along with classmates Grant Leininger and Jackson Woodward.

Another significant change that the team will enjoy this season is the benefit of playing on the new turf field in the high school complex. After years of jokingly having the “home field advantage” they had by playing on the torn up and muddied grass football field that no other soccer team in the area was used to, the SBC players look forward to the consistency that will come with the artificial turf. Coach Vandelicht elaborated, “The new turf is going to be huge for us. We have been practicing on the turf baseball field until the game field can get done. From a program perspective, we cannot wait to have a consistent surface. I think our touch will get better being on a consistent surface, we will be able to anticipate better, and even if we have to play away on grass, it will be easier to transition from the turf. It also is nice to see the school updating facilities and you can tell the players sense a ‘new beginning’ with the investment. It shows that we as a community and district do want to provide the best for our athletes and let them know that sports are an important part of their high school careers.”

The Eagles open the season with four-straight matches on that new home turf, starting with a contest against Kirksville on Aug. 25. Osage (Aug. 29), Boonville (Aug. 31), and St. Francis Borgia (Sept. 5) will also travel to Ashland as early season opponents. Unknown at this point is which MSHSAA classification SBC will be assigned this fall. After capturing the Class 1 state title in 2020, the program found itself in Class 2 the last two seasons. Class assignments are determined by total high school student enrollment numbers, and last year SBC was only two students away from being placed in the smaller classification. Regardless of Class assignment, optimism is in the air as the first match approaches.