Chillicothe (Mo.) HS soccer Hornets take shot at state-finals berth today

At 20-3, visit Harrisonville (9-10-1) for 1 p.m. Class 2 quarterfinals battle

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Chillicothe High School soccer Hornets senior back Logan Distler (16) prevents a Concordia: St. Paul Lutheran forward from getting to a ball only about 15 yards from the CHS goal during the Hornets' 3-0 home victory over the previously-undefeated Saints Sept. 30. Nearby to provide help, if needed, are fellow starting Hornets backs Nate King (23) and Josh Adams (1), along with reserve outside mid Jadon Collins (2). The Hornets will play a 2021 Class 2 state-tournament quarterfinals match at Harrisonville today at 1 p.m., seeking their first-ever trip to the state semifinals and finals next week.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

For the first time in their program’s 15-years history, Chillicothe High School’s soccer Hornets stand one step away from competing in the state semifinals and finals.

In what already has been a historic 2021 season in multiple ways, the lone remaining obstacle between the CHS booters and that unique distinction is a team with – presumably deceptively – a losing record.

In chilly conditions at 1 p.m. today, the Class 2 District 8 Hornets (20-3), victors in each of their past 18 matches, will face the host Harrisonville Wildcats (9-10-1) for the right to advance to the Friday, Nov. 19, state semifinals and Saturday, Nov. 20, finals in suburban St. Louis.

The CHS squad reached state-level play with an emotional 1-0 home upset of top-seeded St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond in the District 8 title match Nov. 3. The next night, Harrisonville, the No. 1 seed, went to double-overtime in the District 7 championship match before edging Kansas City: Barstow 4-3.

Having advanced the previous night, the entire Hornets’ coaching staff was able to watch the Harrisonville-Barstow battle in person. Head coach Tim Cunningham shared his and their assessment of the Wildcats.

“Harrisonville has a very athletic team, one of the more-athletic and physical teams we have seen this year,” he reports. “They have a pair of dynamic forwards that put constant pressure on the defense.”

Effective defense has been one of the hallmarks of this season’s unexpected surge to new soccer heights by Chillicothe’s boys, who won their fourth-ever district crown.

Eight of CHS’ last 12 matches have seen them blank the opposition and they have 10 shutouts for the season. Only three of the 23 previous matches have seen the foe tally at least three goals and only one opponent – Mexico, in a 6-5 CHS victory at Moberly – surpassed three.

The Hornets’ primary bulwark against opponents’ scoring has been senior goalkeeper Jaxon Albertson, the backfield of seniors Nate King and Logan Distler and sophomores Tyler Stephens and Josh Adams, and defensive midfielder Wyatt Brandsgaard, along with various outside “mids” like Ben Cueni-Smith, Gabe Hansen, Jackson Reeter, and Aiden Zimmerman, as well as other reserves who briefly spell the starting backs.

While Albertson has been a solid presence in goal, particularly since recovering from an early-season shoulder injury, Adams provided the season-saving moment late in the first overtime of the district semifinal against unexpectedly-stubborn Savannah.

His sliding kick to clear the ball out of bounds less than eight yards from the CHS goal after an unmarked Savage had slid it past Albertson and toward the vacated net kept the match and season going long enough for Cueni-Smith’s second-OT shot to deliver a 3-2 win.

The offensive load – at least the goal scoring – has been shouldered by the dynamic and unrelenting senior duo of Chace Corbin and Drake Cosgrove.

Having come up through the Green Hills Soccer Club ranks together since about age five, their undeniable chemistry and “sixth sense” of what the other is thinking on the pitch has produced an assault not only on opposing teams, but also the Hornets’ offensive record “book” developed and maintained by the C-T over the years and shared with assistant coach/girls’ head coach Jimmy Chapman last spring and summer.

Setting the tone for their senior seasons by each firing home four goals in the season opener against Cameron, both have surpassed the 8-years-old previous record for goals in a season, set at 29 by Jon Kline in 2013.

The faster-starting Cosgrove, riding the wave of a match-record six goals against Mexico at Moberly, got there first, in part because of Corbin’s early-season deployment in the attacking midfielder’s position, rather than at forward.

Cosgrove tied and broke Kline’s mark when he tallied twice in the Oct. 27 3-0 home win over Savannah. However, in the next match, Corbin poured in five (while Cosgrove added one) to put each at a record 31 through 21 matches.

Each also tallied in the close-call district match against Savannah before Corbin’s match-winner against Bishop LeBlond put him at the current record total of 32.

Both have done their share to set up the other, as well as teammates, for goals, with Corbin the more active there to date, as well.

He enters today’s match having helped on 20 Hornets goals, having surpassed the record of 18 set in 2014 by Derek Hussey and equaled by Mason Baxter last year. Cosgrove is second to Corbin in 2021 assists with 12 with teammates Cueni-Smith and Sam Reeter also in double digits.

As they seek today to tack on two more opportunities to play this season, Cosgrove and Corbin currently stand second and third, respectively, on CHS’ career goals list, close behind leader Steven Cooper.

Cooper completed his career early last decade with 55 goals, two more than the 53 Cosgrove has at the moment and only three in front of Corbin.

With their current total of 65, this year’s tandem is, far and away, the most-productive goal-scoring duo in program history. Prior to this fall, Kline’s and Cooper’s 51 in 2013 was the pinnacle.

Despite not being all that much geographically separated (about 2-1/2 hours, travel-wise), Chillicothe and Harrisonville rarely meet in sports – the most recent apparently being CHS’ state-quarterfinals victory in girls’ basketball in 1982. However, this year’s soccer squads for the two schools do have multiple common opponents.

Harrisonville had both regular-season and district-tourney meetings with Midland Empire Conference member Kansas City: St. Pius X, a club nipped 3-2 on the road Oct. 7.

The Wildcats shut out SPX’s Warriors 2-0 at Harrisonville on Sept. 14 and then slipped past them 1-0 in overtime in last week’s district semifinals, also at Harrisonville’s Memorial Stadium, where today’s match will occur.

Additionally, both CHS and HHS had regular-season wins over Knob Noster. The Hornets prevailed 4-1 at home on Sept. 27, 11 days after Harrisonville had taken a 6-0 decision on the road.

Finally, Chillicothe and Harrisonville each have lined up against the strong Excelsior Springs Tigers at Excelsior, although Chillicothe did it in a preseason scrimmage.

The Wildcats lost to the Tigers 1-0 in their regular-season finale. CHS, with only three players returning at their same positions from 2020, “lost” 2-0 in 35 minutes of play in the preseason session, but obviously now has a season full of experience, improved skill, and a massive dose of confidence it did not have in that August scrimmage.

Harrisonville has a very good recent history on the pitch, including a fourth-place state finish in 2017. While far below that level this year, it has had four 20-wins seasons in the past decade.

After seeing Harrisonville play first-hand, Cunningham and his braintrust formulated a vision of what today’s match might be like and a plan for having the result be a team-record-extending 19th victory in a row.

“I think one of the keys to the match will be our ability to adjust to the speed and physicality of the game,” the head coach shares.

“Also, we will have to be aware of our marks on defense, especially with their forwards. Our attack will have to be crisp and somewhat patient as their defense is solid and seemingly well-positioned.”

Should Chillicothe prevail today, its state semifinal match at the World Wide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton (southwest St. Louis County) would be next Friday at 5 p.m. against either St. Louis: Whitfield or O’Fallon: Christian.