The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 23, 2012

Joplin soccer rides balanced attack to 20-win season

By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer

— A new riddle could soon be making its way around the Southwest Missouri soccer community.

Which is harder: To score against Joplin, or to keep Joplin from scoring on you?

The case could be made that neither answer is right. Or wrong.

Bottom line, the Joplin Eagles are in the midst a good season.

Good may be an understatement.

The Eagles head into tonight’s regular season finale — against Rolla at 6 p.m. at Junge Field — with a 20-1-1 record and a shot to wrap up an outright Ozark Conference championship with a perfect 9-0 record.

“It’s overwhelming really. It means everything to us,” senior Ryan Estus said. “I think about it every morning when I wake up and every night before I go to sleep. It drives us to work hard out here and get better every game.”

Wins and losses are a good indicator of Joplin’s success thus far, but look at some more numbers — the basis for the above riddle — and the Eagles’ domination becomes clear.

Joplin has scored 113 goals through its 22 games. It has allowed just 11.

“It’s how we can attack from any angle. We don’t have one exceedingly good player, we have everyone,” senior Garrett Ward said. “We work together really well as a team. Our whole team is like brothers. Its a communication factor.”

That anyone-is-a-threat mentality is what coach Ed Miller says makes the Eagles so dangerous offensively.

“Usually when you go play another team you say ‘What does this team do? What do they have? Who are there key players?’ And if you key on this player or that player ... you can game-plan around them,” Miller said. “ The big thing with our guys is, anybody can score. We have pretty much 12, 13, 14 guys who can play and they can all score.”

Will Krolman echoed Miller’s statement.

“This year we don’t have to worry about one person,” he said. “We have a ton of different people who can score at any given moment.”

And as stellar as the Eagles have been offensively, they’ve been even more impressive on defense.

Joplin has 15 shutouts in its 22 games and is allowing just half a goal per game.

Junior goal keeper Brock Renken gets most of the attention for those startling numbers, and deservedly so. But Joplin’s backfield of seniors Griffin Locke, Will Krolman and Cole Shepherd — all 6-foot or taller — has played a huge role as well.

“Those guys are like a rock wall back there,” Estus said. “Three guys  over 6-foot and an amazing keeper. That’s good to have.”

Renken, who has been playing keeper since he was 8-years-old, said the communication he has with the others in the defensive backfield on and off the field is the key.

“We go into the game together, pumped up, wanting to get that shutout,” he said. “It’s special. There’s a bond. We hang out all the time.”

Miller said he knew this team could be something special with 10 starters returning from last year’s 19-4-2 season.

That solid base was strengthened with a summer of club soccer and work in the weight room.

“We tried to inspire our players to get out and play on some club teams and play some better teams and get some more experience,” Miller said. “We tried to get them into the weight room and work on some speed and agility and get stronger and faster.

“A lot of these guys grasped that concept. They like winning so they went out and worked all offseason.”