Entering the 2023 season, Webb City’s girls soccer team will once again have several underclassmen in big roles.
In 2022, the Cardinals went 13-9 overall and fell to Branson in the district semifinals.
“We had the youngest squad we’ve ever had last year, led by our three seniors, and the majority of our starters were freshman and sophomores,” Webb City coach Nick Harmon said. “We’ll be even younger this year with only two returning seniors. Despite being so young collectively, we are excited about their potential.”
Webb City must overcome the loss of three senior standouts—Anea Bemo, Austyn Mickey and Delaney Duke.
Bemo scored a team-high 22 goals last season and earned all-conference, all-district, all-region and all-state recognition as a forward. She is now playing at William Jewell. Mickey was an all-district defender who is playing at Crowder College, while Duke was an all-conference, all-district and all-region goalkeeper who has taken her talents to Park University.
“We only graduated three seniors last year, but all three played crucial roles for us their entire high school career,” Harmon noted. “Delaney is the best goalkeeper we’ve ever had, Bemo the best forward and Austyn is the best leader we’ve ever had. The key for our group this year is not dwelling on the past or their accomplishments. We expect this group to learn from Anea, Delaney and Austyn. But this year is about this group of players and what they can accomplish. Despite our youth, we have talent and we’re excited to see players step up and fill those roles.”
Webb City has four key performers back in the lineup this spring—senior midfielder Cree Vaden, senior defender Skylar Martin, junior midfielder Riley Whitehead and junior forward Sophia Booher. The four players are expected to lead the way this spring.
Vaden led the team in assists last season with 12 and earned second team all-district honors.
“Cree has great passing, spatial awareness and vision,” Harmon said. “She will be our field general this year in the midfield. Cree has more varsity experience than any player on the roster. She was a starter on the most successful team we’ve had in school history three years ago. I anticipate both the players and coach to lean on Cree this year for leadership.”
Martin earned honorable mention all-district honors.
“Skylar is a tough defender with varsity experience,” Harmon said. “She tackles well and isn’t afraid to be physical. We’re expecting her to win physical battles against opposition forwards this year.”
Harmon noted Whitehead has battled injuries in her career, but expects her to contribute nicely this season.
“Riley has had a tough two years so far,” Harmon said. “As a freshman, she worked her way into the starting lineup the year we went 22-4 and made the quarterfinals. But she tore her ACL the first game. Last year, she was recovering from a broken ankle bone, so this year might be her first full season in which she gets to play. She’s easily one of the most experienced and talented players we’ve got. So we’re anxious to get her healthy and back out there.”
Booher was the team’s second-leading scorer last year with 10 goals.
“Sophia has excellent pace and a rocket of a shot,” Harmon said. “She made great strides last year as a sophomore playing alongside Bemo. So we expect her to pick up where she left off last year and continue scoring goals for us.”
Other athletes expected to play key roles this season are sophomores Jenna Schulz, Kirra Long, Ruby Channel, Gabrielle Stodghill and Kaylee Kenney.
Schulz, Long and Channel are defenders, while Stodghill and Kenney are midfielders.
Harmon noted his program features a large group of sophomores and freshmen, many of whom could earn a spot in the starting lineup this season.
“Within that group, there are a number of freshman and returning JV players who have potential to challenge for spots at the varsity level,” Harmon said. “With our squad being so young this year and playing time being wide open, we’re excited to watch them compete for spots in the varsity 11.”
Harmon said he’s seen a lot of positives during early-season practices.
“I like the caliber of athlete we have,” Harmon said. “We aren’t returning a ton of experience, but we’ve got a group that brings a positive mentality and work ethic every day. They seem eager to learn and improve, which I believe will lend us success in the postseason.”
Asked about team strengths, Harmon said there’s a lot to like about this year’s group.
“We have a lot of speed and talent up top, with multiple players who can finish,” he said. “I think our attacking threats this year will have more balance. Our midfield is experienced and our back line is experienced. We have a good collective team mentality. If they can continue to work hard and take things one day at a time, we will show tremendous growth throughout the course of the season. By the time we get to the postseason, I believe we will be ready to make a run.”
Webb City is scheduled to compete at this weekend’s Lebanon Tournament.
The Cardinals have road games at McDonald County (3-27) and Aurora (3-30) before their home opener on March 31 against Rogersville.