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story.lead_photo.caption Senior goalkeeper Joey Anderson dives for the ball Thursday to rob Moberly of a possession in Fulton's 5-1 Senior Night win against the Spartans. Anderson was one of six seniors to be honored after the varsity game, and he and the other seniors were factors during the game. Photo by Jeremy Jacob / Fulton Sun.

For their dedication to the program, the Fulton boys soccer team wanted to thank its seniors properly with a win Thursday.

The Hornets did just that, defeating Moberly 5-1, on the team's Senior Night to recognize the accomplishments and work done by the six seniors — Alban Dervishi, Dillon Jones, Joey Anderson, Jesse Peterson, Jacob Barnes and manager Jazlynn Vardeman — during the program's rebuild.

Just three seasons ago, Fulton finished the year 3-20 and then ended 2019 with a 1-23 record. Last season, though, is when Fulton boys soccer took big strides as the Hornets finished the season 16-7, winning a district title along the way.

"We won Senior Night last year and tonight was the second one (in two years)," head coach Joel Henley said. "I think that plays into it. I think these guys really wanted to make sure our seniors went out on a good note."

Moberly (9-9-1, 4-6 NCMC) was the team Fulton (13-5, 6-3 NCMC) defeated for districts last year by a score of 3-2, and in Thursday's meeting, the Hornets gained the early advantage in the 15th minute. The "goal-scoring machine," as Henley has called Dervishi his three years, had the ball at his feet in front of the Spartans' net and poked it in for his 19th goal of the season. He is currently one short of his total from last season.

Moberly cashed in on a rebound with just more than two minutes left in the first half to tie the game at one going into halftime. Henley said he knew the team is dealing with shifting positions after losing junior Dominick Tharp to a knee injury in Tuesday's 3-0 loss to Hannibal, adding to the loss of junior Aidan Romero to a knee injury, but he didn't think the Hornets were bringing the ball to the outside enough in the first half.

The Hornets listened as sophomore Jayden Ayers, after assisting on the first goal, switched roles with Dervishi to give Fulton the 2-1 lead. Not even a minute later, Jones added another off a Dervishi helper to create a 3-1 lead.

"We tried in the first half to force it down the middle again, which we've done that a lot," Henley said. "In the second half, we really pushed it outside, and by doing that, it really opened up a lot of space for us. Once we got that second goal and then third goal fairly quickly after that, I felt like, in a lot of ways, our guys smelled blood and they knew, "hey, let's go and finish this off.'"

Jones has been someone in the middle of the offensive action for the Hornets this season, booming many free kicks, assisting teammates with goals and recording one of many Fulton hat tricks this season in the 6-0 win against Winfield on Oct. 4. Most importantly, Henley said he's been with the program for four years and has contributed to the turnaround along with the other seniors.

"Dillon's played for four years," Henley said. "His freshman year, we weren't a great team, but we still ended up second in districts. He goes through a sophomore year where we were awful, and then last year, we turned it around at 16-7 and as a quarterfinalist. This year, we got a great chance to be really good. He's meant a ton to the program in what he does and how he's transformed himself into a really great leader for us this year."

The second half continued to go the Hornets' way as Henley said playing better in transition and keeping the ball away from Moberly star Chris Coonce made a difference as the Hornets started pulling away as the half wore on.

The final two Fulton goals required some extra skill as Ayers took a pass from sophomore Christian Mahoro in the 69th minute before going into the teeth of the Spartans defense, scoring in the right lower corner as he fell down. Ayers made more solid contact on the next goal in the 79th minute, but that was on the assist to an even more violent strike off the foot of Jones, who blasted the ball while it was in midair on one leg.

"What a finish," is what Henley said on the sidelines after that exclamation point on a momentous night. The program, on the other hand, isn't finished this year as Henley said the contributions of his departing players have impacted the past, present and future.

Henley remembers convincing Barnes into playing soccer for the first time this season because of his speed and has been rewarded with his production and intensity. Starting in goal the previous 13 games, when the Hornets have allowed 1.62 goals per game, Anderson has been a shutdown presence and has impressed Henley with his work ethic in his two seasons. Like Jones, Peterson has been with Fulton for four years, growing much physically and on the field, Henley said. Vardeman is also someone who can't be overlooked, Henley said, as the girls soccer player has been selfless in her three years as manager and has been there through the highs and the lows.

"We are going to miss them all next year," Henley said. "We're just going to hope to continue this train for a little bit longer. Our goal is to be playing Nov. 19-20 in St. Louis (for the state title). That's where we want to end up at."

Fulton plays the third of four straight home games at 5 p.m. Monday when the Hornets will face Marshall (12-4, 7-0 NCMC). The Owls defeated the Hornets 2-1 on Sept. 14 in Marshall.

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