Bobcats, Lions, LVHS seek big things with new looks
All three area prep boys’ soccer teams will be in some form of transition when the season kicks off full throttle next week.
The highlight? Lansing and Leavenworth, both coming off struggles a year ago, will match wits at the Pioneer Stadium Wednesday at 7 p.m. with the hosts hoping to avenge a heart-breaking overtime loss on the Lions’ home pitch last year.
In the meantime, the Basehor-Linwood Bobcats will try to equal last year’s epic run to the Class 4A-I final without many of the faces who got them there.
It could all make for one intriguing fall for soccer in Leavenworth County.
Losing a state title in overtime is no fun and the Bobcats felt that sensation when they dropped the title match to Bishop Miege to be denied the program’s first state championship.
So with three starters back from that team, it may be a reboot, but for Jackson and Carter May and Tucker Johnson, this is a whole new chapter and a chance to keep building off of the 2016 success.
“Key losses were across the field as most of them were seniors,” new BLHS head coach Austin Knipp said. “Our goalkeeper and defense were stellar last year so there will be some big shoes to fill but I truly feel that we have the personnel to step in and continue the success of last year's squad.
“We'll have a handful of newcomers to the lineup that'll make huge impacts. A lot of these guys were coming off the bench last year but had limited time due to the seniors that were starting. Jaxon Bounds in the midfield will be a huge asset to us. His knowledge of the game and awareness of where his teammates are on the field will be key to having success in the midfield.”
Knipp also noted Austin Pliley and Ryan Stalcup could be big contributors on the defensive side of things.
“We are just trying to get our chemistry back to where it was last year because we have a good chance to get back to where we were,” Jackson May said. “We still have three starters returning who were on a state-level team. It’s the hard work on defense and the ability to get up and down the field.
“There is a lot of expectation coming back, but I don’t think we feel a lot of pressure from it. Something we really talked about last year was how teams would think Basehor was an easy game in the past. We focused on ‘being the feared’ and teams would get scared. We were the most physical team in the league last year and will probably be again this year.”
Bounds will get more playing time after participating as a substitute for a loaded team.
“I played with them for two years, now that they are gone it is a little weird,” Bounds said. “Playing with them, I definitely learned a lot. They worked so hard and so does this whole team. That’s how we got to where we were and that’s how we are going to get to where we are going to go this year.
“It’s important for us to get back to where we were. We are not the same team so it won’t be the same run at all, but we definitely expect to get back there. We expect to be a program that will be around for a long time.”
Knipp walks into the program he once played for to replace Erik Jones.
“I can say that what the team did last year was almost unbelievable,” Knipp said. “It was the almost complete dream season and it will always be the staple of our program and the expectation for years to come. Those guys worked extremely hard and deserved all the good that came with their season. I know the guys that are following their footsteps realize how difficult it is to get back to state and are more than aware and capable of putting the work in to contend for a title again.”
Knipp believes the Bobcat depth is going to be a key, but they will also be forced to recapture the success of their predecessors.
“One of my concerns is that the expectation is we'll go 19-2 again this season,” Knipp said. “That season was unbelievable and remarkable in its own way, but I keep telling the guys that it's OK to lose four, five, six games, whatever. As long as we continue to grow, learn and work to correct the mistakes we have, I feel fully confident that we will only work harder to achieve success when times get rough and be fully prepared to enter playoffs at full steam.”
The Pioneers will hope to rectify the heartbreak they faced in 2016, when the finished a disappointing 3-14 overall and winless in their penultimate year of Sunflower League action.
Nine starters are back from a team that dropped a plethora of close games last season and will have to replace Victor Loredo (Rockhurst) and Chase Searcy (Nebraska Wesleyan) who graduated.
“We made a lot of progress last year and earned the respect of our league,” LVHS head coach Derek Wilson said of his team that will play its last year in the Sunflower. “Coaches would tell me that our league now prepares for us in practice and didn't simply just show up. We played tough, close games but had a lot of heartbreaking losses. We must do the little extra things to get over that hump this year.”
A number of old faces like seniors Justis Simon, Kobie Kensinger and Jake Dodd return while newcomers like Nick Hawley have shown promise, so the mix of old and new could be a fun one.
“We are a very senior-heavy team that is motivated and determined to be the group that ends the losing for Leavenworth soccer,” Wilson said. “We return most of our team from last year and we will be deeper than Leavenworth has ever been. We will have physical, competitive practices as we have a large number of guys competing for 11 starting spots. We are a hungry team.”
Simon believes this group of Pioneers will be a lot saltier.
“The team has definitely improved a lot and we have a lot of potential coming up with a couple freshmen,” Simon said. “We have a lot of hybrids that are fighting for that final varsity spot, with varsity players that are tired of losing. It’s our final year in the Sunflower League and we might as well end it with a bang.
“We have grown a lot from our freshmen to senior year. We knew we were going to win and lose some games, but it matters how you hold yourself in the end. We are the same people, but now that we are seniors, we are tired of holding everything back. We are letting everyone else know that you have to play and come out and give it all you can.”
The ability to hold the ball and possess was a struggle for LVHS a year ago and the team believes that is getting much better.
“The midfield has improved a lot since last season,” Kensinger said. “I am playing more of a defensive mid, Carson Lucas is playing more of an attacking mid, Santiago Barea is playing a box-to-box mid. That trio is pretty solid.
“During the summer, we did a lot of touches on the ball. Last summer, we just focused on getting conditioned. More touches on the ball greatly helps our touch and passing. This is probably one of the more talented classes coming up and I am really impressed with how they are holding their own with the varsity guys.”
It won’t be easy as Wilson still has work to do to prepare himself for the league grind. The league is now divided into two, six-team divisions.
“We will have two new center backs this season, but they have both played center back on other teams before,” Wilson said. “We just need to get the chemistry down on the defensive side.
“Our league is stacked just like any other year. Olathe East will be the favorite. I expected us to finish in the top half of the league and win our playoff game in our league championship round.”
The Lions had an interesting 2016 season as they battled in a competitive Kaw Valley League (KVL) and represented well despite going 5-12 overall and 3-3 in league play.
The team will be much younger with only four starters coming back this year, including senior Jarred Edwards and sophomore Charlie Plessl.
They will have to go to a young roster to replace former goalkeepers, center backs, center midfielders and forwards.
“We have several younger players coming in and a couple transfers that I feel will be notable for us this season,” Lansing head coach Adam Cogswell said, “(freshmen) Brayden Parker, John Valieant and Greyson Walker to name a few. Sophomore Logan Hope will take over between the sticks for Wes Deskis, but I feel he's prepared and will perform well for us back there.”
It’s an exciting time for a young team hoping to improve on their elders’ results from a year ago.
“I think you could sum up last season pretty simply – we got bit by the injury bug early and it really made things tough on us,” Cogswell said. “We had to bring younger players up earlier than anticipated and while they performed admirably we still lost something in terms of our efficiency on the pitch.”
But the coach sees some good things coming from his young guns who still need some work.
“I think the attitude toward preparation has really improved,” Cogswell said. “The boys understand how long and arduous the season is, and they've been working all summer (and in preseason) to prepare for it. Yes, we're young, and we graduated some recognizable players, but we expect to step out and be competitive every time we play.
“Youth cuts both ways. We have a lot of freshmen we're asking to step in and perform. We wouldn't put them in that position if we didn't feel they could be successful, but there's always a learning curve. The litmus test will be our first couple weeks of match play. How they react and what we can accomplish then will be important for us all season.”
Edwards has a positive outlook on how the preseason has progressed.
“We have been working very hard,” Edwards said. “We aren’t as good as last year, but we are building up to it and everybody has the potential to be really good. In the next two or three years, we have the potential to be a very strong and prominent team. If everybody is willing to put in the work and play hard we will do well.
“We have a lot of people who can take good touch with a burst of speed to get a good shot on goal. People may not be expecting that, so we may be able to surprise them with that. They probably won’t be used to seeing a team as young as ours moving the team as well as we do. Everybody has the realization that if the shot is open for them to take, they are going to put it on goal or scare a goalie.”
Hope takes over between the sticks and has a defense in front of him to run.
“Almost our entire backline last year was seniors and we have a lot of freshmen coming in, but it’s nice to see the potential to develop a very well-organized unit which is important,” Hope said. “Even though we don’t have the strengths of last year, we have the potential to be a very good unit. One of our main focuses has been stopping transition and we have put a lot of work in. That will definitely improve with experience.
“It’s where we are developing our aggressiveness and knowing when and how close we can mark. We don’t have the tallest players so we have to play smart.”
The KVL will fade into history once it dissolves in May and Lansing will join Basehor-Linwood and Turner along with Leavenworth, Shawnee Heights and DeSoto in the United Kansas Conference.
“The league really doesn't matter to me,” Cogswell said of the KVL. “There's just too big a disparity in quality for it to be indicative of much. To my mind, what's more important are our long-term results, how we're setting ourselves up to perform at the end of the year. I want us playing our best football at the end of the season, not the beginning. Plus, with everything shaking up next year, it's almost a moot point.”