By Tyler Schneider
Head coach Steve Mattson has been at the center of the Center High School boys soccer program for 19 years. His 2022 team may be the best he’s seen throughout his tenure.
“This is the first time in a long time where we actually have a chance to win conference,” Mattson said just hours before the Yellowjackets would face another huge test towards that goal in a home game against Pleasant Hill yesterday evening.
The team will host the Class 2, District 7 tournament at Center High School on Thursday, November 3, at 7 pm when they play against Barstow in the semifinals. The team had a 13-10 overall record (3-1 in conference play) and had gotten off to a 7-2 start.
“This team had a great start, we stuttered a little bit, but now we’re pushing ahead,” Mattson explained. “The majority of our losses have been by one goal besides Belton and St. Michael, and every loss has been by a one goal margin.”
For that reason, Mattson saw reason for optimism as the Yellowjackets headed into the home stretch where crucial contests on the road at Warrensburg and at Harrisonville determined who is crowned as conference champion.
No matter how that shakes out, Mattson says that this year’s junior and senior-heavy squad has been “an absolute joy to coach.”
“I think it’s really special to have a group of kids like this come through. They always play as a team, they work hard for each other, and they are willing to play with as much heart as they can to try and get the wins,” Mattson said.
Some of the team’s scoring leaders through the middle of the season include senior forward duo David Argumendo and Sam Atkins. Mattson describes the pair as “a great dribbler,” and “a speedy goal scorer”, respectively.
He also credits sophomore Oscar Sanchez with stepping up and netting three goals so far this season, describing one of his youngest players as “skillful on the ball, and can play killer passes to open forwards to score.”
The true nucleus of an unselfish team, however, comes at midfield. That group is led by senior defensive midfielder Mansour Balde, who Mattson described as “the quarterback of the team,” and senior passing specialist Angel Lobo.
“[Balde] is an All-State calbur player who has the skills to move onto college. He helps us out in tremendously on defense and is the engine our whole entire team. He is a big reason why were are successful this season,” Mattson said. “[Lobo] makes great passes for our forwards, is four year player for us who has always been coachable and works hard.”
One of the team’s rising newcomers is junior keeper Noah Groom, a catcher on the baseball team who has stepped up thus far to the tune of five shutouts.
“[Groom] up to be our goalie despite never playing [the position] before after playing three seasons in the field as JV player. This year, he became the starting GK and is playing like a veteran for us,” Mattson said.
On defense, the Yellowjackets are bolstered by a strong committee that includes second-year senior captain James Raper, another player Mattson says has All-State level potential. Along with Raper, fellow senior captains Troy Taylor and LaSohn Kamara make up what Mattson describes as “the heart of the defense.”
“These guys are solid group of defenders that maintain shutouts for [Groom], work hard, are coachable, great in the air. They are bruisers for us,” Mattson said.
This team has a whole lot to be proud of. Mattson cites a recent game, on the road in Sedalia on Oct. 10, as an example of the squad’s ability to overcome adversity.
“We had a game last night against Sedalia which we’ve never beaten in my 19 years here. We won, 2-1, despite having two red cards go against us. We rallied with two down, worked for each other, and pulled it off against a pretty good Smith-Cotton team,” Mattson said.
This story original ran in the October 12 print edition of The Martin City Telegraph. It has been updated.