The camps are over and the off-season workouts have come to a close. Soon, it will all begin for real for Missouri high school athletes.
Practices for the fall sports season begin Aug. 6 and most teams will see their season start up three weeks later. The first football Friday night will be Aug. 24, a week later than last season.
Before everything begins in earnest, here’s a look at some of the top storylines that could come out of this season in Cass County.
Ray-Pec football rebuild
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By any measure, last football season was a difficult one for Raymore-Peculiar. Injuries and discipline issues turned a promising season into a 2-8 slog, the Panthers’ first losing record since 2013.
As bad as it was, there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Ray-Pec closed with three close losses, the last a wild 30-27 double-overtime defeat against a Lee’s Summit West in district play. West rolled over Ray-Pec 41-7 early in the season.
Ray-Pec will need to replace quarterback Noah Durham, who totaled 2,012 passing yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Whoever replaces Durham will have two veteran targets in receivers Luke Grimm (914 yards, seven touchdown catches) and Je’Von Williams (350 yards, five TDs).
A big question mark could be the health of running back Chris McKinzy Jr., who suffered a leg injury last spring during track season. McKinzy was the Panthers’ leading rusher last season with 679 yards on 183 carries with six touchdowns.
Rough road for Harrisonville football
With Grain Valley moving on to the Suburban Conference, Harrisonville will no longer have to contend with what had been its toughest foe in Missouri River Valley Conference West play.
That doesn’t mean Harrisonville’s schedule is any easier. Quite the opposite, actually.
Warrensburg is taking Grain Valley’s place in the MRVC West. But before the Wildcats can think about conference play, they will have to get through a grueling four-game non-conference slate.
Harrisonville opens the season against perennial Class 4 power Kearney, which the Wildcats beat in winning the 2016 Class 4 state championship. Then come road games against Class 3 state champion Maryville and Kansas big school Blue Valley Northwest before returning home to face Class 5 quarterfinalist Columbia Battle.
And Harrisonville has some key players to replace from last year’s 9-4 Class 4 quarterfinalists. That includes quarterback Ryan Byrd, who threw for 1,446 yards and 16 TDs last season, running back Joe Bowers, the Wildcats’ leading rusher with 781 yards and 10 TDs and wide receiver Jasper Davis, who made 33 catches for 841 yards and seven TDs.
New challenges for Belton
The reshuffling of the Suburban Conference saw Belton move up from the Blue Division to the White Division. If the Pirates hope to make a third consecutive trip to the Class 5 quarterfinals and beyond, they will have to deal with bigger schools like Fort Osage, North Kansas City and William Chrisman.
Belton also faces the task of replacing quarterback Bart Harris, who will be a preferred walk-on this fall at Tennessee. Harris had planned on going to Nebraska before the Huskers fired coach Mike Riley. The Pirates also have key losses in running back Dante Madden and wide receiver Jaden Clark.
Volleyball Chicks reload?
Pleasant Hill volleyball coach George Creason said goodbye last fall to a senior class that reached three final fours, won four district titles and went 40-0 while winning four MRVC West titles.
But it might be premature to count the Chicks out just yet.
Pleasant Hill will have back outside hitters Morgan Gish and Ana Hanes from a team that went 30-7-1 and took third place in the Class 3 state tournament. Gish and Hanes, who are both seniors, were No. 1 and No. 2 in kills last season for the Chicks.
More soccer success?
Harrisonville could have another successful soccer season if the Wildcats fill the holes left behind by a talented senior class.
Harrisonville graduated 11 seniors from last season’s 25-5 squad, which won 19 straight matches and made the Wildcats’ first-ever appearance in the Class 3 state tournament. That includes striker Seth Wiebusch, who tallied more than 40 goals and will play this fall for South Carolina.
But Harrisonville will have back striker Colton Blentlinger, who also tallied 40-plus goals, and goalkeeper Brody Pitts, who recorded 16 shutouts.
Birth of a rivalry?
As two private schools about the same size in the same city, Summit Christian Academy and St. Michael the Archangel, who both have their share of Cass County students, seemed destined to create a football rivalry.
Summit Christian and St. Michael will meet for the first time in the season-opener for both teams Aug. 24 at Lee’s Summit High’s Bud Hertzog Stadium. The Eagles will be starting their second season under coach Todd Berck, while the Guardians will be starting their second season of their program.
Summit Christian finished 6-5 last season with five wins in its last six games after struggling early on. Sophomore quarterback Grayson Sprouse returns after throwing for 1,136 yards and seven TDs last season as does senior running back Josh McConnell, who rushed for 1,369 yards and 18 touchdowns.
St. Michael will be looking for its first victory after going 0-9 in its inaugural season. The Guardians will also play their first postseason football game this year after not being assigned to a district last year.