Last season, peaking at just the right time of the season, the Neosho Wildcats earned their first district title in boys soccer since 2004 and won the title in front of their home fans at Bob Anderson Stadium.
This season, the Wildcats have a new head coach in former Neosho High and Crowder College soccer player James Carter, who had been the head coach at rival McDonald County since the beginning of the Mustangs' soccer program.
Carter will be assisted by Steve Schnackenberg, who coached Carter in high school and who had been the head coach last season when Neosho won a district title.
The Wildcats have several key players from last season back and open their season Tuesday against Central Ozark Conference and former district rival Carthage.
"As a team, we do not have any results oriented goals (number of wins, a district championship, et cetera)," Carter said. "We've got the boys really focused on showing intensity at practice and being competitive every day. We hope that will lead to a good amount of improvement from beginning of the year to the end.
"First and foremost, we have great leadership from our upperclassmen. We are skilled at all 11 positions on the field, which is a testament to how dedicated our kids are to the game. We also have great numbers, 46 players, which creates a great environment for our players, because there is strong competition for playing time."
Carter had a chance to bond with the players in the summer, since he got done coaching the McDonald County girls at the end of the last school year.
"Offseason workouts were a great opportunity for me to come in and get to know the guys a bit, learn their playing style, and some of their habits," he said. "Many of our kids were playing 5-6 times a week, which shows as we begin our season."
Carter mentioned that several players have stood out to him.
"Early on, Brayden Johnson, Angel Alverado, and Yahir Ruiz have really stood out," he said. "Bryan Perez is also going to do a great job for us at forward. Edly Lehpia is a great athlete who could probably all 10 outfield positions. Diego Vargas has had a great training camp. Kayden Wood will do a great job in goal for us, and we have a talented group of freshmen who could all make an impact this year."
What will help Neosho have a successful season?
"Again, we are really after the guys to just come in and work every single day and be competitive in practice," Carter said. "From a coaches' perspective, I think it's vital that the kids buy into our team values and that we make sure our priorities are straight, that is, that we use the game of soccer as a tool to teach young men life lessons and values that will last long after they leave us."
Neosho begins the season against Carthage and then, weather permitting, closes out the regular season October 18 against Monett. In between, of course, there's several rivalry matches (Joplin and McDonald County) as well as conference foes.
"Our schedule is incredibly tough this year," Carter said. "Carthage, of course, stands out, but I don’t think we play a single game where we can let off the gas even a little bit."
Neosho's district stayed the same for this season, with Carl Junction, McDonald County, and Webb City.
Sept. 4 — vs. Carthage
Sept. 6 — vs. Aurora
Sept. 11 — at Joplin
Sept. 13 — vs. Nixa
Sept. 14-15 — Parkview Tournament
Sept. 19 — vs. Carl Junction
Sept. 20 — vs. Republic
Sept. 25 — at Branson
Sept. 27 — at McDonald County
Sept. 28-29 — Willard Tournament
Oct. 2 — at Webb City
Oct. 4-6 — Joplin Tournament
Oct. 9 — vs. Ozark
Oct. 16 — at Willard
Oct. 18 — vs. Monett