2019 season preview: Leading scorer Baxter back as CHS tries new formation approach with young, quicker roster. Conference, district title contention appears possible

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — The Chillicothe High School soccer Hornets initiate their 2019 home season tonight (Thursday, Sept. 5) with a non-conference match against Kirksville after dispatching fellow Midland Empire Conference member Cameron 6-1 Tuesday.
Hit hard by graduation last year after a 2017 state tournament appearance, the Hornets sank to 6-13, but, in head coach Tim Cunningham’s ninth season at the helm, hope to rebound to at least .500 this fall.
While six 2018 players – including the top defender (Jake Chapman), second-leading scorer (Brennan Munson), and No. 1 goalkeeper (Daniel Hedrick) – have departed as graduates, this year’s club has eight players with starting experience returning, including last year’s leading scorer – junior Mason Baxter (8 goals, 4 assists).
He’ll start at one of the forward positions in the new 5-2-3 (backs-midfielders-forwards) formation Cunningham is choosing to utilize this fall. For many years, Chillicothe has deployed in a 4-4-2 look.
Sophomores Drake Cosgrove and Ben Cueni-Smith, each of whom started some as midfielders last year, and speedy senior Kaleb Mullikin, a track-and-field standout are contenders for the other two staring forward slots. The odd man out figures to get plenty of use as a reserve.
Two more of the mere four ’18 Hornets who posted multiple goals (2 each) last year – junior Caleb Vance and sophomore Chace Corbin – likely will start at the two center midfielder posts, although Cunningham notes freshmen Sam Reeter and Wyatt Brandsgaard are possibilities.
The two wing (outside) back positions on what essentially is the defensive back line have five players vying for the starting slots, including returning starter Noah Crowe, one of the five seniors likely to get into action in 2019. Crowe did notch one assist last year.
Battling with him, according to the head coach, are fellow 12th graders Trent Norman and Hunter Rader, junior Sheldon Rader, and freshman Gabe Hansen.
One of the 2019 Hornets’ most-experienced veterans, third-year starting senior Brendon Nelson, should join with returning 2018 back Carter Allen in the 3-man inside backs corps. Also dueling for a starting gig are junior Dalton Ripley and sophomore Logan Distler.
The lone starting spot officially resolved prior to practices late last week and over the holiday weekend was goalkeeper. There, Cunningham reports, sophomore Jaxon Albertson will step into the vacancy. He handled the junior-varsity level netminding chores last fall.
“Our challenge will be transitioning to the new formation with many players playing new or different positions,” says the head coach, again being assisted by CHS alums Jimmy Chapman and, when available, girls’ head coach Shannon Grable.
“Our strong points,” Cunningham continues, “are our team chemistry and our depth at several positions.”
As for this year’s MEC prospects, despite losing twice as many regular-season matches as they won last year, the 2018 Hornets went 3-3 in league action and all three defeats were by a single goal and they bested two of those three foes in non-conference outings. On the other hand, two of the three MEC wins were by 3- and 4-goals margins.
So, with some improvement, well Chillicothe could be a factor in the conference championship chase and, by extrapolation, the district title race, as well.