With student-athletes only on hand for two years at the most, high roster turnovers are natural to junior college athletics, and getting a team to mesh quickly isn’t an easy process.
So, when a coach like MCC-Blue River men’s soccer coach David Owens is able to bring in a boatload of players who not only were among the best in the metro area prep area ranks, but also had familiarity from playing against each other’s high school and club teams, or on the same club team, that process can be hastened.
Led in part by several Eastern Jackson County area players, the Trail Blazer men carry a 4-1-1 record into today’s game at St. Charles Community College.
Freshmen defenders Julian Ramirez (last year’s Examiner High School Player of the Year) and Clay Cook from Blue Springs High School have started all six games, as have freshman midfielder Zach Felz and sophomore transfer forward Cameron Wallace from Truman. Freshman midfielder Josh Tate, a Blue Springs South alum, has started four games, and midfielder Taylor Corwin (Truman), midfielder Coleman Childers (Grain Valley) and forward Clement Van Worth (Fort Osage), all freshmen, also have seen playing time for a Trail Blazers team that has just a handful of sophomores.
“It was good coming in, knowing that there’s good kids from other schools you know and you’ll play with them,” Felz said.
“Over the years I’ve played against them,” Ramirez added. “It’s kind of good to play with them.”
Wallace is the team’s leading scorer, with five goals and two assists, and Ramirez is lauded by Owens for his defensive work. Tate is one of seven other Blazers who have notched at least a goal.
In addition, defenders Christian Davenport (Rockhurst) and Caleb Rivera (Lee’s Summit West) and midfielder Isaac Benner (Smithville) are among those freshmen who played at premier high school programs in the metro region, and Blake Cook (St. Pius X) was one of the state’s top goalkeepers.
“You have to have talented kids and hope they can gel,” Owens said. “They’re really coachable; it’s a good group of student athletes.
“We don’t always get the best kids from the area. This year, it seemed like a lot of the best players came our way.”
Ramirez, who often marked the opposition’s top play-maker during his all-state high school career, said he feels a lot less pressure in the collegiate ranks, even if the competition is stiffer.
“In high school I was playing center back,” said Ramirez, who also was one of five freshmen who played on a state champion KCFC/Futura Academy club team. “Here I play the outside; we have four that are pretty even. If I get beat, I know I have three others I can trust to help me.”
Ramirez’ older brother, Tony, was part of a regional champion MCC-Blue River team, and seeing some of his games was part of the reason Julian also now plays for the Trail Blazers.
“He had a really good experience here,” Ramirez said. “It was giving me an idea of how the competition would be.”
Corwin said a big change in playing at Blue River has been not having a bunch of older players to learn from.
“When you’re a freshman in high school you had juniors or seniors that had been there a few years,” he said. “The sophomores, coming in here, they’re the only ones who know what’s going on.
“I knew it would be harder [than high school]. It’s a change-of-pace; it’s faster. We’ve played against some 20-year-olds, and we’re just 18 or 19.”
“It’s a lot different than a four-year program because you only have the two years,” Felz said.
Owens said the short time frame leads to what he calls “fast-food coaching” – trying to get the team to quickly digest simplified approaches. He wants his players to simply trust the coaching process and give a maximum effort – the wins will take care of themselves.
“In general, it’s good because you can be competitive right away if you recruit well,” Owens said. “Instead of bringing in three or four new guys in a year, you can have more than half the roster turned over.”
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