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Owens believes rebuilding Ozark ‘will surprise some people’ once again


Coach Zack Owens has seen enough Ozark teams depleted by graduation still continue to thrive over the years that he's optimistic this edition of the Tigers can add to the program's winning tradition.
Even with seven starting jobs to fill by relative newcomers to the varsity game, Owens warns fans not to sleep on Ozark.
"We will surprise some people," the third-year head coach and former Tigers standout said. "Ozark is no stranger to sometimes being looked at as an underdog and then surprising people. This will be a good opportunity for this team to do what we do sometimes by showcasing new faces, but staying tough and grinding it out.
"We are young as far as our varsity experience. We've got six swing players who saw some varsity time last year who are probable starters," he added. "I think we have a great starting corps. We've also got some players who don't have any varsity experience to step into starting roles. Our entire bench will be brand new to (varsity). But we've got coachable kids with good attitudes."
Ozark will feature first-year players on both sides of the field. Owens thinks the offense and defense are at comparable stages in regard to their development.
"They're pretty similar," he said. "They both have weaknesses we're still working on as any inexperienced team would. I'd say maybe the offense is working a little better than the defense. But the defense has been sharp. I guess it's a tossup."
The offense is captained by senior midfielder/forward Adrian Ortega. He collected 14 goals and eights assists last season.
"We're looking at big opportunities for Adrian, that's what we're hoping for," Owens said. "He is going to do big things for us. We can move him all over the field. That's a big help for us. If we see a weakness somewhere on our opponent, we can try to get him isolated on that particular person to take advantage of it.
Another midfielder/forward, junior Caleb Lepant is back after a sophomore season in which he proved to be a clutch scorer. He will draw more attention from opposing defenders this time around, but Owens thinks he will continue to contribute.
"I think he's up to the challenge," Owens said. "He doesn't shy away from those challenges. He seeks them out as opportunities more than a hardship. He's going to be dangerous anywhere we put him in the attack."
The defense can lean on senior goalkeeper Trevor Carlton.
"I'd put Trevor in the top two in southwest Missouri," Owens said while rating 'keepers and separating Carlton and Glendale's Cole Vincent as the best of the best.
Connor Cummings, August McComas, Jason Martin and Phin Scott will also play key roles.
"Connor and August are our center-backs and are both juniors who have played for Sporting (Springfield)," Owens said. "They are extremely coachable. They take everything given to them like a sponge and do their best to put that into motion. Jason Martin is going to be big for us in mid-field, Phin is one of our most talented players as far as skill-set with the ball. He's a kid we can play anywhere."
Alex Williams, a transfer from Strafford, will make for an intriguing addition. He has never played high school soccer, but has club ball experience with Sporting Springfield. The sophomore wing has been slowed by a wrist injury, but at 6-foot-3 provides a physical presence.
"He wasn't able to do a lot of our summer stuff because of his injury. He's working to get back in shape and get his touch back. He's going to be a big help for us. He's a big body. We're excited for him to be a part of our program."