Despite a rough regular season, Park Hill ended up inches away from making a coveted return to the playoffs.
The Trojans ended up 7-14-2, thanks in large part to the switch to a Suburban Conference Gold Division schedule, before advancing to the Class 4 District 16 championship game. After a scoreless regulation and two halves of extra time, Oak Park and Park Hill went to penalty kicks.
Park Hill missed three times from the spot in the shootout, allowing Oak Park to escape with a 3-2 victory and advance to the playoffs.
“Ask any of our players and they’ll tell you that our goal is to win the district championship,” Park Hill coach Josh Marchbank said. “The returning varsity players have a bitter taste in their mouths after the shootout loss and are desperate to finally bring home the trophy.”
Park Hill last made the playoffs in 2011, despite a series of strong seasons since then.
The win total dipped last year with the shift up to the Gold Division, but the experience paid off. The Trojans actually beat Oak Park during the regular season on a last-minute sudden death goal on a free kick, earning them the No. 1 seed.
“We had a tough season last year when we moved conferences with all of the Lee’s Summits and Blue Springs, and we weren’t used to playing that kind of competition so I think we learned a lot and picked it up at the end of the season,” Park Hill senior Jackson Turner said. “We’ve got a good team this year, and hopefully, we can win districts this year for my senior year.”
Park Hill must rebuild quickly with Turner the only senior captain.
Aaron Simpson and Jack Austin, both juniors, will highlight a potentially stout defense which loses Jackson Foutch and Alec and Erik Goodwin. Stefan Derra, a junior who stopped two Oak Park penalty kicks in last year’s district final, will also be back along with senior Jackson Elder and junior Gabe Smith — a trio that split time at goalkeeper a year ago.
The offense must replace the production and creativity of midfielder Nico Bosmediano, while Andrew Rich provided an occasionally bruising offensive presence up top. Park Hill never did find a consistent goalscorer last year, tallying just 19 goals total.
Marchbank expects junior forward Matt Lachowitzer and sophomore midfielder Nick Bender to pick up bigger roles this season after limited action last year.
“It’s a difficult task because you’ve got arguably the best conference in the city, and they’ve got some very good teams,” Marchbank said. “We talked about it last year: the strength of schedules is going to help us out because we don’t have these cake-walk games that we had in the last conference where we were winning 8-0, 9-0 so we learned a lot about ourselves in the first month of the season last year playing those teams.”