File photo by Rick Nation
The Bryant Hornets soccer team will get their first taste of competition this Saturday when they take on a team of former Hornets at Bryant Stadium, starting at 3 p.m. It’s the team’s first year under the guidance of Richard Friday, who’ll be assisted by Joe Teague.
The Hornets officially kick off the season on Tuesday, Feb. 28, and follow up with a match at Little Rock Christian on Thursday and a games in the Fort Smith Tournament starting Friday against Fayetteville.
“It’ll be a good testing gauge on where they’re at, which formations work with them, which kids work well with those formations and to see how we actually do against competition,” said Friday of the busy first week. “We scrimmage every Saturday against each other but you can only gauge so much with them playing against each other. They know each other, they know the formations, so they know what each is going to do so they kind of cancel each other out. So, as a coach, it’s like, ‘Are we good on defense? Or are we really bad on offense? Which one is it? Which one’s winning?’
Otherwise, Friday said that preparations are going well.
“We’ve had a tough pre-season,” he related. “We’ve been going probably three-and-a-half, four hours a day. I split the kids up into groups doing technical/tactical sessions. Coach Teague is taking them in the weight room, running them through a routine. It’s been a grueling two months. The kids are ready to stop training and start playing.
“They’re enthused,” he added. “They’re buying into the program. I think they’re enjoying playing. The first thing I did when I sat down with the kids is ask how they wanted to play. Based on what they said, we put together some formations that will play into that. The kids are competing for spots and working hard and pushing each other.”
The team includes seniors Logan Valestin, Kobe Ray, Connor Qualls, Brian Resendiz, Ramon Aguilara, Angel Rodriguez, James Lasley, Bryant Dalton, Andy Doonan and John Sohn.
Juniors are Adolfo Martinez, Luke Welch, Ricky Barrientos, Jhorman Cruz, Henry Chun, Gilberto Cardenas, Reese Graham, Cole Gillespie, Oscar Jiminez, Dawson Oakley, Edgar Tejada, Bryand Esperaza and Arron Sahlmann.
Sophomores include Jack Selig, Luis Lara, Thomas Bullington, Alexander Sohn, Christopher Fuller, Jackson Givens, Danny Linares, Garrett Inman, Matt O’Gary and Martin Ramirez.
Joining in this year as freshmen are, Max Hooten, Brian Ibarra, Brandon Delgadillo, Ethan Voorhees, Jonathan Giron, Eduardo Chun and Irvin Morales.
“I have a lot of kids back from last year,” Friday said. “Martin Ramirez will start up top; Angel Rodriguez, Ramon Aguilera, Ricky Barrientos. We’ve got veteran defenders with Luke Welch, Dalton Bryant. The kids in the midfield, Dawson Oakley and Connor Qualls. Our goal-keepers are Logan Valestin and John Sohn, two seniors. Our backs, we have Andy Doonan and James Lasley.
“Our starters are veterans but there’s a lot of good sophomores coming in to kind of push for their spots so they’re not going to be able to get comfortable,” he continued. “Some of the sophomores coming in are Jack Selig and Christopher Fuller, who’s made a good run at it. He went from being low on the totem pole to really pushing for a starting spot with just hard work. Then there’s Luis Lara and Martin who both played a lot last year as freshmen.
“We have tremendous depth,” the coach asserted. “We can go, legitimately, three deep at any position. We can get kids loads of reps and that’s a good thing.
“It’s a hard thing for a coach to say, ‘Hey, you’re really good but that kid might eke you out a little bit here or there and I know you want to play.’ With soccer being the way it is, it’s a flow game. If you do line changes where you’re subbing seven kids in at a time, by the time they get into a flow in five or six minutes, you’re pulling them off so you can’t get any rhythm. You can keep fresh legs in there to run but the pattern, the development, the movement of the ball is not there.”
Asked about his meeting with the players and his own philosophy, Friday said, “We talked about our principles of play and the fact that, when we’re offensive, I want to see flow, I want to see creativity. I give them the freedom to go where they want to go and play how they want to play.
“As soon as we lose the ball, we instantly press to slow a play down or even to get it right back so we keep possession over an extended period of time,” he continued. “We have a lot of skilled players but we’re not very tall so we can’t sit back in and let teams dictate and start dumping balls in because we’re not going to win them. So, we have to press immediately and try to strip the ball and put them under pressure. And, defensively, stay organized. Don’t get broken down easily. Principles of defense, first defender, don’t get beat. Allow us to get more players on the ball and squeeze them off the ball and win it back.”
Friday is originally from Cabot where he played for the Panthers and got some international experience. He played for the Olympic Development program in Arkansas and made a Slect team to play in Europe.
“They even gave us a trial at IX in Europe,” he noted. “I wasn’t good enough but it was a great experience. I learned a lot about the game. I learned a lot about my individual ability. I ended up getting a scholarship to go play at UCA, probably because of that. The pace in which I played was so much faster when I got back.”
After college, Friday coached at Pulaski Academy and J.A. Fair in Little Rock. He’s coached club soccer for 16 or 17 years, he said.
“I wanted to go into a 7A school and to build a program,” he said. “When I talked to (Bryant athletic director) Coach (Mike) Lee about it, that was the first thing I said. I’m here for the long haul and I want to build a program that’s going to compete.
“I think this year, we’ll make that first step but I think next year it’ll be even better after they have a full year of playing and getting used to it,” the coach concluded.