Harrisonville, Oak Grove could battle again

By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
Posted: August 30, 2013 - 5:54 AM



The Missouri River Valley Conference has a long history of outstanding football. That didn’t change when the conference split into two divisions six seasons ago.
 
When that split came, longtime MRVC members Oak Grove, Odessa and Pleasant Hill broke into one division along with Grain Valley (who joined a few years before) and welcomed Excelsior Springs and Harrisonville to make a six-team league.
 
Since that split the league was dominated by Harrisonville until last year when Oak Grove won the title. This season those two could be battling again but Pleasant Hill, Excelsior Springs and Grain Valley are improving and Odessa has a new coach.
 
This conference also features four Class 4 teams in Harrisonville, Pleasant Hill, Grain Valley and Excelsior Springs along with the two Class 3 schools in Oak Grove and Odessa. Even though there are four bigger programs Oak Grove proved last year that size doesn’t matter when deciding a champion.
 
Excelsior Springs
Record: 7-3, 3-2
The Tigers roared back with one of its best seasons in years. Led by do everything athlete Nick Masoner Excelsior only suffered regular season losses to Harrisonville and Oak Grove before falling in the first round of the playoffs to Smithville. There was a coaching change in the offseason as former assistant coach Josh Buford takes over the program. Excitement is high with many returners off of last year squad back this season.
 
“We have a lot of kids that have a lot of experience and they’ve done a great job of bringing along our younger kids for us,” Buford said. “We are going to be primarily seniors and sophomores playing on Friday nights so our older kids that have experience and experience with winning have done a great job of kind of tugging along and being good leaders for our younger kids going into week one.”
 
The Tigers could be primed for another strong year and could challenge both Oak Grove and Harrisonville. Excelsior Springs might night win the conference title but how teams do against them might just determine the winner.
 
Excelsior Springs 2013 Schedule
8/30       @ Warrensburg
9/6         Cameron
9/13       @ Richmond
9/20       Springfield Central
9/27       @ Harrisonville
10/4       @ Odessa
10/11     Grain Valley
10/18     @ Pleasant Hill
10/25     Oak Grove
 
 
Grain Valley
2012 Record: 2-8, 0-5
The Eagles struggled a year ago after losing their quarterback for the season during the Jamboree. Grain Valley was a young team that struggled to find its footing during a tough schedule that included the MRVC East teams along with Savannah, Warrensburg and Sedalia Smith-Cotton. Numbers are up for the Eagles with 112 players but only eight of those are seniors. With a small senior class and only seven returning starters Grain Valley will be trying to battle the experience gap all season long. The strong overall numbers are showing that Jimmy Tucker’s program is growing heading into his third season at the helm.
 
“Things are really starting to jell a little bit and make sense to them,” Tucker said. “Everybody seems to be getting along really well and they are just a fun group to be around right now.
 
“We are getting back to platooning and we are excited about that. We can get kids more of a break and play a lot more kids and we are excited about that.”
 
Grain Valley
8/30       @ Savannah
9/6         St. Joseph Benton
9/13       @ Warrensburg
9/20       Sedalia Smith-Cotton
9/27       @ Pleasant Hill
10/5       Harrisonville
10/11     @ Excelsior Springs
10/18     @ Oak Grove
10/25     Odessa
 
 
Harrisonville
2012 Record: 11-3, 4-1
The Wildcats are still one of the top teams in Class 4 and in the MRVC East. Not much has changed from last year as many of the impact players from a team that went to the semifinals is back and ready to take that next step. Harrisonville has been knocking on the door of the Class 4 state title game the last few years only to come just short. This team will find out a lot about itself when it opens its season at Jefferson City Helias. That’s the same team that ended their season last year. Helias is loaded just like the Wildcats and the first game could be a preview of things to come.
 
“I really think that our offense is going to be very explosive,” Harrisonville coach Chuck Lliteras said. “We’ve got a vertical threat to our offense that we haven’t had in the past. It’s more mature. We had a starter out there as a freshman last year that we are very excited about sophomore this year. We’ve got two split ends that can get deep and they are very tall and very fast. That will add another perspective to our offense.”
 
The Wildcats can score and defend. This could be their year if they can get past Helias and a few others from the Metro.
 
Harrisonville 2013 Schedule
8/30       @ Jefferson City Helias
9/6         Savannah
9/13       Bolivar
9/20       @ Warrensburg
9/27       Excelsior Springs
10/4       @ Grain Valley
10/11     @ Oak Grove
10/18     Odessa
10/25     Pleasant Hill
 
 
Oak Grove
2012 Record: 11-1, 5-0
There is a lot of excitement around the Oak Grove program this year. The Panthers return most of the starters from last year’s team that won 11 straight before falling to Center in the Class 3 quarterfinals. Back is dynamic tailback Aaron Graham along with other key players on both sides of the ball. The Panthers could have a very similar season as last year and hope to find themselves playing for a state title for the first time in more than two decades. The stage is set for Head Coach Pat Richard to have the same impact at Oak Grove as when he took Orrick to two straight Class 1 titles a few years back.
 
“The work these kids have put in is nothing short of amazing,” Richard said. “The size gains that we’ve made, the strength gains we’ve made and we are faster. That’s what you are trying to get and that’s because they work so hard.
 
“Last year gave them a taste of how good they could be…It was kind of an eye-opener to where they said ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, we can be pretty good’ and they got a taste of how good they could be.”
 
Oak Grove 2013 Schedule
8/30       @ Lexington
9/6         Holden
9/13       Nevada
9/20       @ St. Pius X
9/27       Odessa
10/4       @ Pleasant Hill
10/11     Harrisonville
10/18     Grain Valley
10/25     @ Excelsior Springs
 
 
Odessa
2012 Record: 4-6, 1-4
The Bulldogs bounced back last season after going 0-10 in 2011. The four wins were an improvement but that group largely graduated and a very young team is left behind. A coaching change also took place in the offseason with Mark Thomas moved from Belton back to Odessa where he coached nearly two decades ago.
“Our focus has been everything we are involved in,” Thomas said. “We are a pretty youthful football team and so there are a lot of things we need to work on and get better from a fundamental standpoint. Trying to teach a new offense and defense to a lot of young players it’s a process.”
 
This season will be learning process for all involved and the hope is the young players are better at the end of the season.
 
Odessa 2013 Schedule
8/30       St. Pius X
9/6         Southwest
9/13       Carrollton
9/20       @ Holden
9/27       @ Oak Grove
10/4       Excelsior Springs
10/11     Pleasant Hill
10/18     @ Harrisonville
10/25     @ Grain Valley
 
 
Pleasant Hill
2012 Record: 3-7, 2-3
The Roosters suffered a step back season in 2012 for the first time in a long time. Pleasant Hill has been a very consistent program over the last 10 years and the dip into a losing record looks like it could be a one-year phenomenon. The Roosters bring experience back and have one of their stronger teams in recent years. They will be tested right off the bat with a game at Smithville and that will tell the Roosters where they stand early in the season.
 
“Quite a few of them had significant roles on the varsity last year so the experience will be probably a little more than we have most of the time,” Pleasant Hill coach Kyle Roach said. “They are very competitive so we have to make sure they help the people around them and make them better. I’m excited about this bunch.”
 
The Roosters should bounce back this season but the conference will test them week in and week out heading into the postseason.
 
Pleasant Hill
8/30       @ Smithville
9/6         Warrensburg
9/13       Mount Vernon
9/20       @ Nevada
9/27       Grain Valley
10/4       Oak Grove
10/11     @ Odessa
10/18     Excelsior Springs
10/25     @ Harrisonville