By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
Garrett Ward and Cole Shepard became the latest members of the Joplin Eagles soccer team to pursue their careers at the collegiate level Thursday when they signed with Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College.
Shepard was a fullback whose defensive skills contributed to the Eagles’ 16 shutouts in their 21-3-1 season last fall.
“I’m not real sure I want to play soccer after two years,” Shepard said. “That’s why I picked a juco. We’ll see how everything goes.”
Both players recalled a 2-0 victory at Carthage in front of a large crowd as a highlight of their senior season.
“We knew that game was going to be close,” Shepard said. “I’ve never been so pumped up in my life to play a game. Once we scored, I can’t explain the feeling I got. It was a huge adrenalin rush.”
Shepard was a first-team selection on both the all-district and all-conference squads. The Eagles’ defense was one of the things that gained the attention of Golden Norsemen head soccer coach John Parrigon.
“Cole is a classic defender,” he said. “The first thing, his body size and speed. He’s always under control and never loses his head.”
Ward, who played forward, is a two-time second-team all-district choice who scored 17 goals and had 15 assists for a team that outscored its opponents 119-16.
“He’s really slick with the ball,” said Eagles head coach Ed Miller. “He ran the offense in the center attack position like a point guard. He had 15 assists, so obviously he had a lot to do with setting people up with scoring.”
The Eagles had a record of 18-1-1 going into their late-season matchup at Carthage.
“That was pretty exciting,” Ward said. “That’s one of the most intense matches of the year because both schools really support their soccer teams.
“It has been the best four years of soccer I’ve had,” he said. “We won the (Ozark) conference my junior year for the first time since 1993, so I was proud of everyone.”
Ward’s offensive skills convinced Parrigon, who is aiming for a return to the form that produced a region championship for Golden Norsemen in 2011.
“Garrett is a straight-forward offensive power,” he said. “He has a great shot. He has speed and is very aggressive with the ball. As far as loose balls, you know he’s going to go in and challenge.”
Shepard and Ward became the fourth and fifth players for the Eagles to sign with college programs. Joe Rice and Will Krolman signed with Crowder College, and Griffin Locke signed with Neosho County (Kan.)
Two more Eagles could soon join that list. Edgar Romero and leading scorer Ryan Estes have not yet finalized their plans, Miller said.