Three players from Neosho’s historic boys soccer state quarterfinal team signed on the dotted line Wednesday to continue their academic and athletic careers at the collegiate level.
Brayden Johnson and Edly Lihpai both signed with Coffeyville (Kansas) CC and Angel Alvarado inked with NAIA school Graceland (Iowa).
Neosho head coach James Carter, who himself played soccer at the collegiate level (including two seasons at Crowder), focused on their character and leadership.
“I’m glad that all three of you are doing this together,” Carter said, “because you’re all three in the same boat. We could talk about their year and their individual accomplishments and on-field accolades as a team, but if I spend time doing that, I really am missing the mark because what makes these guys special, the reason they’re in the chair they’re in today, is who they are as people.
“What made them most valuable to us is the leadership they brought and that makes me just as excited, because those are the things that continue when they’re through playing. I’m excited they’re going to the next level, but I’m glad that most of all the values they have and who they are as people continues when they’re done. Whatever they decide to do, they will be successful. When you remember them, remember how good they were as players, for sure, but remember who they are as people because that’s what sticks out in my mind over and over again.”
— Johnson, a defender, earned Class 3 honorable mention, defensive player of the year in District 12, and all-Central Ozark Conference first team honors during Neosho’s big season that saw the Wildcats win back-to-back district titles and get past sectionals for the first time in school history.
“It’s relieving,” Johnson said of his decision to sign with Coffeyville. “I spent a lot of time going through a lot of different things, different college visits and everything, and I finally found the right school for me. (Coffeyville) was honestly the best choice for me and my family. It was the best choice for me.”
Johnson said that he received eight different offers from colleges.
Lihpai, a midfielder, earned all-district first team.
“The coach,” Lihpai said of what made him want to sign with Coffeyville. “The coach made me feel welcome when I went there. Had a connection right away.”
Johnson and Lihpai have the opportunity to continue to be teammates for possibly two more seasons.
“I think it’s awesome that I get to go with a brother that’s been my brother for three-plus years,” Johnson said. “We’ve been on this team and it’s been a lot of fun, and we’re going to have a great time (at Coffeyville).”
“It’s good,” Lihpai said. “I won’t be as nervous when I go over there. I’ll have somebody I know and somebody to talk to, so it will be good.”
Johnson and Lihpai made plenty of memories their final two high school soccer seasons.
“Never giving up,” Johnson said of what he learned at Neosho that will assist him in college. “That was one thing about our team is that we never gave up. That’s what set us apart in the playoffs.”
“District final,” Lihpai said of his favorite memory at Neosho. “I’m not much of a shooter. I like to pass a lot, so scoring (that goal) was neat, I liked that.”
Recent Neosho High graduate Ashley Talley and current seniors Kennedy and Taylor Lamp have all signed with the Coffeyville women’s soccer program.
Coffeyville men’s soccer, coached by Jerrid Schicke, finished 6-11 overall and 1-9 Jayhawk Conference. The Red Ravens traditionally play Crowder.
— Alvarado, a midfielder, earned all-district first team and all-COC second team. He signed with a school based in Lamoni, Iowa (pop. 2,267) and the Yellowjackets play in the Heart of America Athletic Conference. Last season, Graceland finished 8-8-1 overall and 5-6 HAAC.
“If you asked me two years ago, my sophomore year, if I was going to be going to college,” Alvarado said, “honestly I probably would have said no because I was stuck in high school. This is a great feeling knowing there’s a next step for me. I get to continue playing the sport that I love.
“They call it (soccer) ‘The Beautiful Game’ for a reason. I love this game. I’ve been playing it since I was little and it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Alvarado will travel approximately 280 miles and four hours north to his collegiate destination.
“As soon as I got there, the vibe,” he said. “It just gave me a real … I felt welcome. It was very friendly. Even the tour guide, he acted like he was my friend even though I didn’t know the guy. The weather was kinda bad. Aside from that, he made it real friendly.”
Alvarado played a central role on both district championship teams.
“It made me the person I am now,” Alvarado said. “It was a good experience.”