McPherson High boys soccer coach Chris Adrian was wondering at the beginning of the season how he would ever replace the scoring of amazing All-Staters Andric McGill and Patrick Munsey, who accounted for the bulk of the Bullpups’ 2016 scoring and were four-year mainstays.
“During the first week of practice, we had a conversation with the team about what it was going to take for us to be successful this season,” Adrian said. “We knew we couldn’t rely on three or four players to carry us and that our only chance at being competitive at the state level was if we had 11 players on the field all contributing and fulfilling their role the best they could. We focused a lot on what it means to be a great teammate and playing for each other.”
The Bullpups’ blue-collar, team-first approach resulted in a remarkable season as they finished third in Class 4-1A and had a 15-6 record with a team that was tilted toward the sophomore class.
But it was the senior class that still led the way from a leadership standpoint, led by probable All-Staters Darrius Armstrong and Devin Cape.
“Although the majority of the team is sophomores, there is no questioning the impact made by seniors Darrius Armstrong, Devin Cape, Connor Williams, Francisco Alcaraz, Noah Scott and Carson Stone,” Adrian said. “Some of the seniors played more minutes than others, but they all did as much as they could to make the team better and deserve a lot of credit for what this team accomplished this season. It’s a great class that we are definitely going to miss next year. The future definitely looks bright for the these Bullpups and the goal next year will be to build on the foundation that was formed this year.”
Adrian at times had as many as eight sophomores on the pitch and that class will be the nucleus for next year.
The highlight of the year, he said, was going into enemy territory and coming away with a state quarterfinal road win against Louisburg.
“The state quarterfinal against Louisburg has to be my proudest moment of the season,” Adrian said. “This young team made the long trip to Louisburg and battled against a senior-loaded squad in an extremely hostile environment on Halloween and pulled off a great win. Playing at state was another great experience, the three other teams there were all made up of mostly seniors and we started with seven sophomores against a super talented and experienced Bishop Miege team and held our own.”
For a while, though, it didn’t appear this was going to be a special season. MHS was just 4-3 after seven games and did not win the league championship after a 2-1 loss to Buhler gave its arch-rival the championship.
“Losing to Buhler 2-1 toward the end of the regular season was definitely a turning point for the team,” Adrian said. “It was a wake-up call and fueled the team to work harder in practice for the final weeks. The next time we played Buhler for the regional championship, we looked like a different team and played one of the most exciting games of the season winning 3-1.”
Another area of concentration going into the season was to be a better home team. The Bullpups had lost some games at McPherson Stadium the last couple of years that were particularly emotionally painful.
But this year the Bullpups steamrolled their way to an 8-0 home record.
“Our home record this year was also something this team should be really proud of, finishing undefeated only allowing 2 goals against while scoring 41,” he said.
Adrian will have an advantage going into next season as he’ll have a veteran team that will be a year older and more physically mature. Also, the returning players know what to expect and that should put the team way ahead from the very first practice.
It starts in goal with Nathan Lloyd, who registered 10 shutouts and 75 saves. Britton Haigh (14 goals, 2 assists), Tyler Hoxie (4 goals) and Drew Schrader (3 goals, 8 assists) will be an offensive triumvirate in the middle and be flanked by the Jaime cousins, Samie (4 goals, 6 assists) and Jael (3 goals, 6 assists). Both have exceptional speed and passing skills and they’ll be counted on to pick up the scoring slack left by Armstrong.
Trenton Stecklein will have to step in as a defensive stopper, filling the large shoes of Cape. Rhett Edmonson (2 goals, 2 assists) will be counted on for more minutes as will Luke Brossard (3 goals). And the team’s most talented freshman, Cody Achilles, will add speed.
For a Bullpup team that many thought was a year away, it definitely accelerated the timetable.