You’ll have to forgive Garrett Wicker if he is more than a little bit eager to get his senior season going with the Branson High School boys’ soccer team.
Expectations? There are definitely some.
He had similar expectations going into his junior season last fall, as one of the key scoring threats from a center back position.
That didn’t last long.
In the third game of the season, late in a 4-0 loss to Ozark, Wicker went up for a header and was undercut by an inexperienced opposing player.
Wicker came down and tore his right calf and broke his left wrist. It left him using a scooter to get around the school, but also kept him out for the majority of the season.
He returned right before districts, leaving him disappointed with how it all turned out.
“It made me upset and frustrated that I couldn’t play, in my senior year, when were all set up to have a really good season,” Wicker said. “Then this year has kind of given me the drive to make up for that. It’s like two seasons in one, really.”
Being out for about six weeks last fall – and without the ability to keep up with the cardio work needed to be effective in soccer – gave Wicker plenty of time to contemplate life on the sidelines.
Same with the offseason, when his constant goal was to come back stronger than ever for his final season.
“It’s made me appreciate good health,” Wicker said. “Now that I’m at full health, it is making me look at it as my last year here and has motivated me to go out the right way.”
While Wicker is trying not to focus on what could have been, he is hoping to make a big impact as Branson tries to improve on back-to-back 15-victory seasons.
“My goals for this season are to be a great leader for the team and the underclassmen, and to have our best season yet,” Wicker said. “This potentially going be the best season we’ve ever had, so I’m hoping we can put that together.”
Wicker is far from the only weapon back and hungry to help the program make a move.
Senior Kyle Sutton is back after earning first team All-Central Ozark Conference honors as a junior.
He has 39 goals and 21 assists for his high school career, within reach of Branson’s all-time career records in both categories.
Also back are midfielders Cris Abarca and Gaige Efird, plus Alex Brenner on defense. As a team, Branson scored 92 goals last season, a school record that was twice the previous mark of 46.
The Pirates scored five or more goals nine times in 2018. Staying healthy and keeping the team’s top talent on the field will be key for mounting challenges to some of the storied and decorated teams on the schedule.
“We can match 11 players with anybody, I honestly believe that,” Branson coach David Brenner said. “A lot of the difference comes when you have to go to that 13th, 14th, 15th player, other schools are bringing in players with more experience than we have.”
The injury to Wicker also forced Brenner to scrap the plans they worked on all summer and in the preseason, shuffling lineups and putting players in new roles.
“It forced us to move people around and changed the way our lineup was going to look,” Brenner said. “We scored a lot last year, but we were really looking forward to being able to push Blake (Stoner) more into the offense and we really had to sit him a lot deeper. Garrett brings another dimension to the team, with his speed.”
Branson still is looking for its first victory in a postseason match, in the 10-year history of the program. The Pirates have lost to Ozark (three times), Nixa (three times), Springfield Glendale (three times) and West Plains in district tournament play.
It’s a sense of unfinished business for those in the program.
“We’ve been snake-bit when it’s come to districts,” Brenner said. “We’re a successful program and we’ve won tournaments, but we haven’t made it to that crowning achievement, which is winning a district title.
“That’s always hanging out there in front of me.”
Branson Boys’ Soccer Schedule
Sept. 3: at Carthage
Sept. 5: at Springfield Catholic
Sept. 7: Monett
Sept. 10: Carl Junction
Sept. 12: Springfield Greenwood
Sept. 13-14: Springfield Parkview Tournament
Sept. 17: Joplin
Sept. 19: at West Plains
Sept. 24: at Nixa
Sept. 26-28: Bolivar Tournament
Oct. 1: Willard
Oct. 3: at Springfield Parkview
Oct. 8: Ozark
Oct. 10: Springfield Central
Oct. 14: at Springfield Kickapoo
Oct. 15: Republic
Oct. 22: at Webb City
Oct. 29: at Neosho
Oct. 31: Bolivar