Liberty defender Drew Plum moves with the ball in a home game against Truman last season. Plum, a senior, is one of a group of returning starters for the Blue Jays.

LIBERTY — It was just minutes before a preseason practice warm day at a practice soccer field at Discovery Elementary School, and the mood of the Liberty boys soccer team was light.

It was the first practice with the squads determined, and the Blue Jays were just about to collect their game jerseys for the new season. Most of the varsity players didn’t take long in picking their numbers.

That’s because Liberty returns eight to nine starters from a year ago, coach Thomas Rottjakob said.

“I’m really excited about this team,” said Rottjakob, who listed senior goalkeeper Austin Nelson, midfielder Brody Mueller and senior forward Kaden Rottjakob as expected heavy contributors. “I have a lot of returning starters. We are fitter than we’ve ever been and we’re already coming along.”

“We bring back a lot of talent, cohesion and all of that,” senior defender Drew Plum said. “And the varsity experience back is big. From my understanding quite a few of the other teams around don’t have the experience we have this year, so hopefully that gives us a boost.”

That boost the Blue Jays are seeking hopes to elevate them past the district round and into the state tournament for the first time since 2013.

“It seems like we’re always in the district championship, but we’ve struggled last several years to win it,” said coach Rottjakob, who’s entering his 20th year in charge of the program. “That’s one of the goals this year with these guys. That’s on their mind. On my mind is playing good soccer. The wins will take care of themselves.”

The Blue Jays are coming off a 9-12 campaign in 2018. They lost 3-1 to Liberty North in the district title game.

Fast forward nine months and the Blue Jays are ready for another crack at developing a team to compete for a state tourney berth.

“I just really want to win something this year,” Kaden Rottjakob said. “I want to beat our rivals North and hopefully win districts and get to state. It would mean a lot to make the season a little longer.”

The Blue Jays open their season with their home tournament, the Liberty Kick-off Classic. The Blue Jays host Park Hill at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31 in the first round of the tourney.

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