There’s been a lot to like this season for Ozark forward Troy Davidson, his father, coach Tom Davidson and the rest of the Tigers.
Ozark completed an undefeated run through its COC schedule, halted a 12-game losing streak versus Nixa and reeled off 10 straight wins to end regular-season play with a 22-2 record. The Tigers are one win from tying the single-season school mark for victories, set last season.
“I couldn’t ask for a better senior season,” Troy Davidson said. “Now, we’re going to make the most of these next couple of weeks and see what we can do in the post-season.”
Ozark is eyeing a Class 4 District 11 championship as its next goal. The No. 1-seeded Tigers meet Republic (6-15) in a semifinal at 5 p.m. Tuesday, while No. 2 Nixa (14-7) faces No. 3 Branson (18-5) at 7 p.m. The title title is Thursday ay 5 p.m.
Ozark is looking for a finish fitting of its regular season.
“They’ve done everything right,” Tom Davidson said of his players. “Every single game is a different adventure and they find a way to figure it out that night. That’s what is so special about this group. I have so much confidence in these kids. They keep figuring out a way to do it. I hope our best soccer is yet to come.”
“Coach is proud of us because we put in the effort and it pays off,” forward TK Stine added.
Chemistry has become one of the Tigers’ many strengths.
“We’re well-coached, we put in good work during practices, we’re pretty disciplined, we hold each other accountable and we want to succeed for each other,” Troy Davidson said. “I’m around these guys every single day and they’re family. Going to battle with them is so much fun. I’m really going to miss this when the season is over.”
Ozark’s 10-game wining streak has seen the Tigers record three straight shutouts, not allow more than one goal in seven straight contests and total 37 goals.
Ozark, which will serve as the District’s host, hasn’t lost at home since a Sectional defeat to Columbia Rock Bridge a year ago.
The Tigers know better than to take anything for granted. Ozark’s 3-2 win over Branson went to overtime and the Tigers’ 3-2 victory over Nixa was a 5-2 penalty-kick shootout.
“It’s hard to get through Districts,” Tom Davidson said, referring to the all-COC foursome. “Everybody knows everybody. They know what you’re doing and you know what they’re doing. It’s about execution. We’ll have to play well. Somebody is going to give us everything we want. Hopefully, everything will work out.”
Tom Davidson values the momentum Ozark has entering the post-season.
“There are teams who struggle down the stretch and then all of a sudden their best stuff comes out at Districts. Me, I’d rather be on a nine- or 10-game win streak and be feeling good,” he said. “Some teams can flip the switch. But I love the momentum. We’re in a good spot.”
Nixa coach Evan Palmer doesn’t think the Eagles should automatically be tagged the favorite against Branson based on their 3-1 win over the Pirates in September. This is Branson’s best team in its program’s history. The Pirates have never beaten Ozark or Nixa, but knocked off Kickapoo this season for the first time ever.
“Branson has an excellent team and it will take a great effort on our part to win,” Palmer said. “We watched the film from our first game with them and our team realized that we could have been down early in that game. We were lucky to score a couple of our goals. The outcome could have been different. We will have to play a better game.”
The Eagles have played more underclassmen, including four freshmen starters, than about everyone they’ve played all season. Palmer feels good about how they will respond to their first taste of the playoffs.
“I think the younger players will be fine,” he said. “The seniors have done a fantastic job of leading this team and our young players. With the support of the seniors, I have total confidence in all of our players.”
Nixa will likely be out to win low-scoring games. The Eagles are 8-4 in games in which both teams have been held to two goals or less. They have won six times by a 2-1 score. Goalkeeper Nick Reid has four shutouts.
“We usually don't score a lot, so we have to keep the score down,” Palmer said. “Both Branson and then probably Ozark can put the ball in the net consistently. Both of those teams press the ball well. So, we have to move the ball to beat their pressure, which also means our movement off the ball — getting open — has to be at a high level. Then, we have to finish our (offensive) chances.”