SPRINGFIELD – The inaugural all-star soccer game matching the best of the best of the Central Ozark Conference and the Ozark Conference was contested on a hot field at Evangel University on Sunday afternoon.
The Ozark Conference squad emerged with a 4-0 victory in the girls’ showdown, but that victory should carry something of an asterisk with it.
The game was rescheduled from its original date of June 23, and the OC team didn’t have enough available players to field a full squad.
That forced some COC all-stars to cross over and wear the OC colors. One of them – Ozark’s Keeley Combs – scored two of the goals for the OC team.
It didn’t matter much to the Branson High School representatives for the COC team: the newly graduated Brooke Hunn and senior-to-be Katie Jaeger.
“It was pretty great, coming together with a bunch of people you don’t know and getting to play together and experience this,” Jaeger said.
“It was a very good experience.”
Both played extensive minutes for the COC team and both figured into some decent scoring chances in the game.
For Hunn, it was a sneak preview to her future. She signed a letter of intent in April to attend Evangel University and play her home matches on that same field.
“It was cool to be on the same team with other players from our conference, and learn how each other plays,” Hunn said.
“I’m excited to play on this field some more.”
Hunn spent a moment to reflect on her time at Branson and how the girls’ program is continuing to grow.
The Lady Pirates are coming off a 7-14-1 finish last spring, with a team filled with young and inexperienced players.
That came after finishes of 10-11-2 in 2017 and 13-12 in 2018.
“We have built a great program at Branson, and it is continuing to grow and get stronger,” Hunn said. “I’m going to miss it a lot.”
One of those young players ready to step up for her senior season is Jaeger, who shares similar optimism about the path of the program.
“We have a bunch of younger players and we’ve been working together all summer,” she said. “I feel like we can come into this season strong and I’m looking forward to it.”
Both Jaeger and Hunn said they are enjoying the Women’s World Cup in France, where the U.S. team was scheduled to play England in the semifinal round on Tuesday.
“We’re a great team and just need to work for it,” Hunn said.
Jaeger spent last week at a camp at Missouri State University in Springfield, where activities and workouts stopped so all the campers could watch the U.S. team in action in the Knockout Phase.
The tournament has seen the American team at the center of controversy, including in the opener, with some criticizing the team for alleged overzealous celebration in a 13-0 victory over Thailand.
Hunn isn’t buying into that criticism.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “If you’re at that level, you can celebrate all you want.”
COC BOYS’ TEAM CRUISES
Riley Young of Willard claimed MVP honors in the boys’ game, scoring both goals for the COC team in a 2-1 victory.
Young scored his first goal at the midway point of the first quarter, then notched the game-winner off a rebound on a scramble in the box early in the third quarter.
The result was almost an afterthought for two Branson players suited up for the COC squad – recent graduates Dwight Hyde and Blake Stoner.
For Hyde, it was a nice reprieve after squaring off against COC rivals for four years of school ball, and being conditioned to seeing those players as “the opposition.”
“In high school, I think you are more conditioned to not like them,” Hyde said. “It was a real cool to play against the OC and to show really who has the most dominance.
“It was very fun to play with a lot of guys from the COC – they are very cool guys, it was nice to meet them, and we were able to build some friendships that will last.”
Hyde finished his Branson career as the No. 6 career scorer in program history, finishing with 31 goals and a school-record 32 assists.
He will continue his playing career at Rockhurst University.
“I’m going to make sure to work hard – everyone has to work hard to be able to play for Rockhurst,” Hyde said.
“It’s a big level, and I for sure want to play with those guys and learn a lot from them.”
Like Hunn, Stoner got some experience playing on his college home field. Stoner is headed to Evangel University, where he will pursue a degree in Digital Arts and suit up for the Crusaders.
“It’s a good start,” Stoner said. “I’m looking forward to spending more time on this field.”