CJ soccer falls to Ozark in defensive battle

May 1—CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — Carl Junction and Ozark fought to a 1-0 final on Tuesday night at Carl Junction High School in a Central Ozark Conference soccer match that ended in favor of the Tigers.

CJ (11-7) allowed a goal with 14:49 to go and that was enough for Ozark (12-9) to claim the victory.

"I used to coach with coach (Ed) Miller at Joplin and he's a great coach," Ozark head coach Zack Owens said. "He's always prepared. He watches film. We knew that he would have their girls ready to play us. He knew which of our girls were dangerous.

"We actually switched up our formation for this match specifically to kind of throw him off a little bit, hopefully."

Carl Junction wasn't fazed by the new formation as it was able to keep the game close from start to finish. Maybe it affected the offensive play of the Bulldogs, but that would have been it.

"It was a hard-fought, physical game. I thought we matched their intensity. I thought we did some good things tonight," Miller, now the CJ head coach, said. "We did it against a powerhouse. Ozark's one of the better teams in our conference. Our girls stepped up to the plate tonight."

Both teams have the goalkeepers to thank. For Ozark, that was freshman Layken Hoskins. CJ's goalkeeper was sophomore Jadyn Howard. Hoskins had to defend several late charges.

"I love our effort. There was no quit. We played to the end. We competed and wanted it," Miller said. "We had some opportunities at the end because of the no-quit."

The Bulldogs' scoring opportunities came in the last 10 minutes, and right around the 10-minute mark they were able to get the ball deep into Ozark territory by using sharp passing and quick attacking.

Ella Anderson got the ball in close on the right side of the goal, and from about 10 yards away she took a shot across the goal and missed about a foot wide on the left side.

"It was a foot wide. She played it on the ground, far post, like she had to do. She was just a little off. She created the opportunity just like we wanted," Miller said. "I told her 'Good try. Next time it goes in.'"

Howard was protecting the back of the net all evening long and only surrendered the one goal scored by Ozark's sophomore Brooklyn Shulte.

"This is Jadyn's first year playing and she's really stepped up to be big for us," Miller said. "She was a big reason the game stayed close like that."

Owens noted that he felt like his team was a little more technical and maybe more skillful coming into the game. With that, he said Carl Junction's ability to bridge that gap with physicality was a game changer.

"They were all over us. They didn't give us any time and space and it was a great game plan. That's why they were able to keep it so close," Owens said. "Hats off to coach Miller and their team."

Both teams will look to use a gritty competition like this one to build themselves up heading into postseason play. Carl Junction will be competing in Class 3 District 7 starting Saturday, May 11. Ozark is in Class 4 District 5.

"It's good for us to have to grind one out, dig it out and persevere a little bit on the road," Owens said. "It's good for us to come out the victor in this and show our girls can have some fight."

Miller cited a game over the past weekend in which CJ fought down to the wire in a 0-0 contest, and didn't surrender a goal until the final 10 minutes or so to a Class 3 Hannibal team that is 18-2-2 now.

"We had a good game tonight against another quality opponent that's a powerhouse in Class 4," Miller said. "We're very happy with the direction we're going getting ready for districts."

SENIOR NIGHTThere are nine seniors on the Carl Junction team that were recognized on Tuesday night. Those players were Sara Buchele, Emily Harrison, Hailey Merwin, Josie Gilbert, Letzy Poroj, Alexia Evans, Audrey Fletcher, Anna Burch and Olivia Trosper.

"They got a lot of wins," Miller said. "Our last three classes have done really well, and they came in with them. A lot of winning and a lot of tradition the last three years. It's been a very successful four years with these seniors. They've put in the work in the offseason. They've gotten better. I'm happy with their commitment to make our program better."