By Rob Patrick
A year ago, after the Bryant Hornets soccer team had defeated powerhouse teams like[more] Fayetteville, Bentonville and Bishop McGuiness of Oklahoma City, there was great hope going into play in the Class 7A State Tournament. But, because the Hornets had to make up games in the final few days before the tournament against the rugged Central Conference teams, they were pretty beaten up and worn down by the time they got to Fort Smith to take on the Rogers Mounties. And a 1-0 loss in the first round dashed those hopes.
This year, there’s new hope because the Hornets are well and rested after capturing their first conference championship, playing in the South, and posting a 19-2-1 record during the regular season, a new high for the program.
Plus, they earned a first-round bye at State, which got under way today at North Little Rock. Bryant opens play Friday at 4 p.m., against the winner of today’s first-round between Fayetteville, the six seed from the West, and the host Charging Wildcats, the third seed from the Central.
“I think our mindset is to go in, play one game at a time like we have all year,” stated Hornets coach Jason Hay. “I think they’re ready. I think we’ve improved the last few weeks and I still don’t think I’ve seen us play the best we capable of yet. But we’re going to need to get that done pretty quick.
“Having the first-round bye helps,” he acknowledged. “It’s hard to win three games in three days.”
With a bye, a team needs two wins to get to the championship match, which will be played at the University of Arkansas’ Razorback Field in Fayetteville, on Friday, May 17.
“The kids have been working hard,” Hay stated. “We’ve had a good week. It seems like it’s been a long week but I think they’re ready.”
The Hornets come into the action on a six-game winning streak in which they’ve shut out five opponents. They’ve won 15 of their last 16 matches.
“I said the first of the year, I thought many skill-wise, individually, I didn’t know if we were as talented as last year,” Hay said. “But I think we have a group that plays together better as a team. There’s just something about them.
“We’ll find out,” he continued. “We have not faced the competition that we’ve had in the past but, last year, we played a Monday and a Tuesday game because we had some rainouts then we had a day off then we had to go to Northside and play on a Thursday. That’s tough.
“(This year) we played last week, we’ve been practicing and I think our legs are underneath us,” the coach noted. “Last year, we were gassed before we even got there and we’re not as beat up. The Central’s so tough that you just physically get beat down.
“Knock on wood, we’re healthy right now so we’ve got a chance,” Hay concluded. “We’ve got a good draw now it’s just up to us to win and get it done.”