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Falcons' Sumpter goes from beginner to all-state

By Bill Althaus
bill.althaus@examiner.net
Van Horn senior goalkeeper Cooper Sumpter boots the ball downfield during a game against Blue Springs this season. Sumpter, who didn't take up soccer until his sophomore year, earned second-team all-state honors for the 21-4 Falcons this season.

Jesus Rodriguez, who has built a soccer culture at Van Horn High School along with one of the most successful programs in the state, was facing a dilemma back in 2018.

First-team all-state goalkeeper Daniel Orozco had graduated from the 25-1 2017 squad and the veteran coach was in need of someone to take his place in the net.

Daunting?

You bet, but activities director Chris Corrie, who was the soccer coach at Van Horn when the school joined the Independence School District back in 2009, had a suggestion.

“Coach Corrie’s suggestion was a baseball player who played some soccer in a recreational league when he was in elementary school,” chuckled Rodriguez, referring to Cooper Sumpter.

“I was thinking, ‘Really?’ Boy, was I ever happy I listened to Coach Corrie and watched Cooper in a tryout. He was diving and moving all over the place. Nothing was getting past him and he told me it was because of his baseball experience.

“He played catcher and the infield was used to diving for balls. He told me soccer balls were easier to stop because they’re bigger, and he has enjoyed a three-year career that was amazing. He was an inspiration to all the players on our team who had played soccer for most of their lives.”

Sumpter, who only played high school soccer his sophomore, junior and senior years, just capped another stellar campaign by being named to the Class 3 all-state second team in the sport he started on a whim.

Van Horn goalkeeper Cooper Sumpter, left, tips a shot by St. Michael the Archangel's Keegan LeNeave (14) just wide of the goalpost in the Class 3 District 14 championship game in November. Sumpter had a 0.8 goals against average and 10 shutouts while earning second-team all-state honors.

The Falcons were 20-5 this season and came within a game of going to the final four. Sumpter starred in the net his sophomore year when the Falcons were 25-3-1 and reached the final four for the first time in school history and last year they were 21-4.

“Much like a pitcher in baseball, a team’s record is the goalie’s record, so Cooper was 26-12-1 over the last three years,” Rodriguez said. “And you know what’s amazing? This year he never allowed more than two goals in any of our games. His goals against average was .8 – less than a goal a game.”

He also recorded 108 saves and 10 shutouts.

And now, rather than rest on his past success, Sumpter has returned to the Falcon basketball team, so he will be ready for his final season of baseball in the spring.

“I played basketball my freshman and sophomore year, but took last year off,” Sumpter said. “Now that soccer is over, I want to be in the best shape of my life for baseball, especially since we didn’t have a season last year (because of the COVID-19 pandemic), so I’m back playing basketball and I’m having so much fun. I kind of forgot how much fun basketball is.”

He also talks about the “fun” he had starring in the net for the Falcons the past three seasons.

“So much fun. We just became one big family,” Sumpter said. “You talked about the culture Coach Rodriguez has created at the school. But he has also created a family atmosphere. Most of the guys on the team have played soccer all their lives. Yet they accepted me into their family right away.”

At first Rodriguez wasn’t sure what he had.

“We didn’t know what to expect from Cooper, so we kind of started slowly,” the coach said. “Then Cooper said he wanted to see some real shots. So, he was in the net, our guys were taking real shots and he was stopping them.”

No better way to earn a teammate’s confidence than by showing them what you can do early in the preseason.

And he finished as one of the best goalkeepers in the state.

“I can’t believe it’s over,” Sumpter said. “I replaced an all-state goalie, and now, I’m on the all-state team. It’s unbelievable. Coach and the guys were so great to help me learn the sport and it’s an experience that I will never forget.”