Last season, Grain Valley ran into a buzzsaw in the Class 3 District 15 soccer championship game when it fell 4-1 to Van Horn, which later made the state final four.
It was a season in which the Eagles had to play conservatively. Because of the lack of scoring firepower, they had to commit a lot of players to defense and play the ball overtop or through the opposing defense on long passes to score. That strategy didn’t hold up against a loaded Falcons squad.
This year could be a little different.
Grain Valley looks to be more offensively minded in 2019. That will involve using their wing backs to help push the ball forward.
“We were more of a 4-5-1 (formation) team last year,” Grain Valley head coach Tyler Nichol said. “We tried to lock down other teams on defense and tried to grind out wins. Now some of our players have developed and we are going to try to outpossess our opponents a little bit more.”
Added senior midfielder Jack Knust: “We have the players to keep the ball and move it forward. We lost no one up top and I think we’re going to score a lot this year.”
It helps that Grain Valley returns nine varsity players from last year’s team. Knust leads that group as he paced the Eagles with 15 goals and eight assists in 2018.
“He’s got a change of pace with the ball and has a burst off the dribble that a lot of players don’t have,” Nichol said. “He has a really high IQ of the game and is a deadly finisher. He’s good at free kicks, as well. That’s how we beat (Kansas City) East last year in districts.”
Also returning is senior goalkeeper Bryant Madden, senior forward Nate Booker, senior defender Joe Prall, junior midfielder Kendall Schrader, junior defender JR Brown, junior defender Nathan Manning and junior forward Alex Engram.
“We have some great freshmen coming in this year and we have some great offensive players, as well,” Manning said. “We will be able to fill in all the spots and we should be fine. I am sure we are going to be a lot better with how we developed.
“It’s crazy. Bryant Madden is a great goalkeeper and he played there for the first time in his life last year. He was great for us. He couldn’t have had a better start.”
One newcomer who could help is Luis Gilardi, a junior foreign exchange student from Germany who is expected to contribute right away. Freshman midfielder Austin Schmidt also could earn a starting role.
“We’re trying to figure out where he is going to fit in, maybe as a center mid or an outside back,” Nichol said of Gilardi. “He can definitely play. We just have to figure out where he fits into our puzzle. This is the first time we’ve had a varsity level foreign exchange kid.”
With the Eagles returning so many starters from last season’s team and a couple of talented newcomers entering the fold, a Suburban Small Seven Conference championship and district title are their main goals.
“I think we’re going to be really good this year,” Knust said.