Soccer game

Fulton hosts a class 2 state quarterfinal soccer game against Pleasant Hill tonight

While watching his Hornets football team during summer training, Fulton head coach Joel Henley could see clues of promising possibilities.

Henley and his Hornets went from a terrible 1-23 during the 2019 season, ending a grim three-year streak in which they were a 7-63 combined.

Henley’s modest ambition for his team heading into the 2020 season was a reasonable request – to win five games.

“When you’ve won the most threes and you’ve struggled, and you come out of a 1-23 season, there’s a part of you that wants to create an achievable goal,” said Henley, who is in his. fourth year leading Fulton. “We wanted to start the season, five wins, we can do it.

“I think it was there, a few weeks before July, that I saw that we had pieces, we can be OK, we can be good.”

The Hornets surprisingly shattered Henley’s goal to win, tripling the mark more while putting on a magical season that produced their third district championship in school history and a return to the state playoffs for the. first time since 2004.

Fulton’s reward arrives tonight when the Hornets (16-6) host the Pleasant Hill Roosters (15-4-2) in a Class 2 quarterfinal clash at the high school sports complex. Game time is 6 p.m.

Fulton – who has a four-game winning streak – advanced through the playoffs by rallying to a 3-2 win over host Moberly for the District 6 title last Thursday night.

“Did I think we were going to win a district championship (this year)? No, I wasn’t there yet,” said Henley. “As the season wore on, I definitely got to where I was going, ‘Hey, that’s the real deal.’

“We wanted to continue the culture and the process that we had started, which was, ‘If you guys, if you keep going, it’s going to be fine, we’re going to right the ship, we’re going to turn the tide,’ and the guys have it. accepted.”

The forward offense in the Hornets 4-3-3 lineup includes junior forward Alban Dervishi in the middle. Dervishi leads the team with 19 goals and 43 points despite missing the first five games of the season.

“Alban is a goalscorer and that’s why he’s center,” said Henley. “He’s good with the ball in his foot, he’s going to be able to miss one, maybe two guys, and be able to shoot.

“He has the gift of scoring, he will find the net.”

Dervishi is joined up front by senior forward Mason Crane on the right and first-year forward Jayden Ayers on the left. Ayers has 12 goals and six assists (30 points), while Crane has five goals and four assists (14 points).

“He’s fast which has helped us a lot,” Henley said of Crane. “Mason does a really good job going down the field, serving the ball and putting it (in the middle).

“Jayden is quick but he’s strong. He can do more things, he’ll put the ball on his foot and dribble a little more sometimes and come back to the middle, he’ll shoot the ball, he’ll pass and he’s not afraid to come in. in contact with people. “

Two key scoring sources for Fulton occupy the midfield with the brother combination of senior Clement Mahoro and freshman Christian Mahoro. Clément Mahoro scored 11 goals and 15 assists (37 points), while Christian Mahoro provided 10 goals and 16 assists (36 points).

“They communicate well with each other, they connect so well and they know where the other is going to be,” said Henley. “They are probably some of the most technical players I have ever seen.

“Christian can do things that I don’t know how he does sometimes. He’s able to tune balls that I never thought people could fix. Clement showed me so much last year being able to beat two and three players at the same time. “

The Hornets’ third element in midfield is senior defenseman Seth Windsor.

“Seth is a bulldog – he doesn’t want to get beaten up,” said Henley. “Not many people are going to beat him. He’s going to be physical – he might fault someone to stop them, but he won’t be beaten there.

“He’s going to play hard and he’s not leaving the pitch.”

Fulton’s four full-backs consist of senior Nathan Lowry on the left, another combo brother at junior Dillon Jones and second Dalton Jones in the center, and second Bahir Sherzad on the right.

Dillon Jones has scored six goals this season, including five from free kicks and four winners.

“They’ve been playing together all year, they’re good at sticking together,” Henley said of his defensive quartet. “They communicate very well together, they cover each other up.

“When you do that, when you work together like that, you kind of grow together. I think that’s been the strength for them this year.”

In the Hornets’ goal is Logan Vanden Bosch, who is in his first year with the soccer team after playing soccer. Vanden Bosch responded with an impressive 1.95 goals-against average and three shutouts.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the way Logan played,” said Henley. “He’s learning all the time and he’s asking questions. He’s not afraid to come down (for a stop), to go towards someone’s feet – your face is there, your hands are there, your body is there. the.”

Pleasant Hill reached the quarterfinals of Class 2 edging host Clinton 2-1 for the District 5 championship last Thursday night. The Roosters are guided by senior forward Evan Burns, who has scored 59 dazzling goals this season.

“He’s fast, he dribbles well, he’s going to attack you,” said Henley. “He’ll play the ball to No.10 (senior Owen Bailey), and No.10 will find it in space.

“If we don’t respect him (Burns), if we don’t knock him down, if we don’t make sure we cover each other up, he’s going to run behind and he’s going to be dangerous. He’s definitely their guy and they’re going. play through it. “

When Fulton attacks, Henley thinks the Hornets can take advantage of Pleasant Hill’s outside full-backs.

“We want to play our left and right attackers in the corner, and we want to face them one-on-one with these guys, or beat them, and then bring that ball to a sideline, a baseline, then the send in the middle, ”said Henley.

Playing at home has been profitable for Fulton, where the record is 7-1 this season. Henley, his coaching staff and players are excited to host a state playoff game.

“It’s exciting to be home,” said Henley. “I noticed that in the city, at school, people are very excited about what the football team is doing, so I think there is a bit of a buzz.

“Our guys want to make the school proud, they want to make the community proud. They want Fulton football to be back on the map again, especially this senior class. They had that goal when they came in, and I have feel like – in some ways – they probably achieved that goal. “

Ryan Boland can be reached
at (573) 826-2422, or on Twitter
at @FultonSunSports.