By Rob Patrick
In many ways, the Bryant Hornets soccer program has been building toward[more] this season. The last two years they have reached new milestones. In 2010, the Hornets set a new standard for the program with 17 wins and made their first trip to State since 2007 as a No. 3 seed.
In 2011, against a tougher schedule, the Hornets won 14 games but again earned a three-seed for State. And this time, they recorded a post-season victory, beating Rogers Heritage 4-1.
In 2012, head coach Jason Hay returns 11 seniors, most of whom played key roles in the accomplishments of the last two seasons after being freshmen on a team that, though it went 8-14 in 2009, competed with nearly everyone on the schedule. It was the last of four straight losing records.
The Hornets get a chance to get on the field against some opposition this Saturday when they host a pre-season jamboree that will also include Hot Springs Lakeside, Valley View and Batesville. Bryant will scrimmage Lakeside at 9:30 a.m.; Batesville at 12:30 p.m.; and Valley View at 3:15 p.m. Each scrimmage will last 25 or 30 minutes.
Bryant officially opens the season on Thursday, March 1, against traditional Class 6A powerhouse Searcy on the road.
The seniors are Peter Alverio, Jace Denker, Forrest Fowler, Caleb Lambert, Trent Rivers, Victor Rodarte, Alex Rowlan, Alex Salminen, Ben Stukenborg, Ryan Watson and Jesse Wolf.
Juniors on the team include Cameron Furton, Josh Lowery, Chase Stuart, Justin Travis and Francisco Zamora. The sophomores are Evan Caddy, Bryce Denker, Cory Laisure, Chance Levinson, Slade Lewis, Davis Nossaman, Bryan Oldham, and Blake Reed.
The freshmen that have been added are Jeremy Anderson, Jack Buck, Cory Ballew, Houston Clifton, Alex Denker, Chris Godwin, Logan Moore, Bradley Oldham, Jacob Salminen, and Dylan Wolf.
“I think the kinds know they have a chance to be good,” stated Hay. “I think the big deal with these guys is getting them to focus on one game at a time and quit worrying about how good they think they are, just playing the game. Sometimes the years when you think you’re going to be good may be the hardest.
“Every year, our expectations have gotten a little higher,” he acknowledged. “I think, after getting through the first round to the second round (at State), they’re expectations are higher this year. That’s good but we just have to keep working like we have been and not get complacent.”
Quality of depth marks this year’s squad, Hay noted, “It’s a good problem to have in some ways.
“Up top, we’re looking at a few different combinations with Ryan Watson, Ben Stukenborg, Chase Stuart and, maybe Rowlan a little bit, maybe Bryce Denker,” he related. “Our main mids will be Rowlan and Bryce and we may play Jesse Wolf some there. We’re looking at Lowery, Travis, Furton, Petey all getting some time on the wings. And, in the back, Forrest and Alec are coming back from last year. We’re looking at Nossaman, maybe Wolf and Trent Rivers coming in and getting some time back there.”
Rowlan was an all-State selection last season.
“Jace and Rodarte, we’re going to get time for both of them in the keep,” the coach continued. “They both have their plusses and minuses. It’s very rare that you have two guys that you feel 100 percent confident throwing in the goal. It’s definitely good. I just wish one of them was a junior.”
As for his expectations for Saturday, Hay stated, “We’re just looking to get their feet wet, come out and be smart. We just want to kind of get the nervousness and the early game jitters out to get us ready to go to Searcy and Benton then play in the Northwest Arkansas Tournament.”