With the way things have turned out, Carson Sandgren is thankful he felt he didn’t have the chance to follow the lead of his older brother, Caleb, and become an Ozark forward.
Shortly after Carson first began playing soccer a handful of years ago, Caleb wanted to work on his goal-scoring at their home. He was looking for someone to protect the goal and since Carson was at home, he fit the bill.
“He wanted to shoot on someone and he said, ‘You’re the younger brother,’” Carson said. “I thought it was a seniority rule. I (did it) because I felt like I had to. I can't say I loved it. He hit as hard as he could.”
Caleb's practice attacking the goal eventually led to him scoring nine goals his senior season two years ago and becoming a State Fair signee. It also inadvertently led to the beginning of Carson’s burgeoning career as a goalkeeper.
“I fell in love with it and focused on it,” Carson said.
Sandgren is now a few weeks into his sophomore season and in his first go-around as Ozark’s starting goalie. He’s debuted by notching five shutouts in the Tigers’ 7-1 start.
"He’s got "The West Bluff Wall” in front of him and that's been a big help,” coach Zack Owens said while referring to his stellar defenders. “But Carson has been phenomenal. He makes a lot of intelligent plays. He's getting great opportunities against high quality opponents.”
Sandgren was in a tight competition with two teammates for the goalie job in the pre-season. With Owens rating the three of them as even, he opted to go with Sandgren since he was the younger player and thus could be in front of the goal for three seasons.
“The job is his,” Owens said. “He makes a lot of heads-up plays, knowing when to keep the ball at his feet. He does a good job distributing the ball out to our wing. He's got a great punt. All those things combined, he's been very helpful.”
Sandgren couldn’t ask for a better start to his varsity career.
“I had my sights set on getting varsity time this year,” Sandgren said. “I knew it was possible if I could give it my all and put in the effort. I felt I could get better. It's working out. To be part of a team like this that has potential to go far and to be accepted by the seniors has been special.”
Sandgren is part of a strong class of 12 sophomores that has led Ozark’s junior-varsity to an 8-0 record.
Another sophomore getting a head start on his varsity career is forward/midfielder James Nemeti. He netted his first varsity goal last weekend at the Parkview Tournament.
“The support from the team was even better than the feeling of getting one in the back of the net,” Nemeti said of his goal.
Nemeti has established himself among Ozark’s five fastest players as he gains valued reps alongside juniors and seniors.
“More time on the field and more touches on the ball means everything,” Nemeti said. “It’s getting me used to playing with the older guys by playing up a level. I’ll be more ready to step up next year.”
“He's finding good minutes for us,” Owens said. “We’ve got a big rotation with our wings, so it’s a good thing we can keep fresh feet out there."