When their season was shutdown last spring due to COVID-19 precautions, the Bryant Hornets soccer team was rolling. After making it to the Class 6A State finals in 2019, they had a veteran group returning and an eye on getting back to the championship game and, this time, winning the big prize.
The shutdown was heartbreaking for all of the spring sports but, perhaps none more than the Hornets soccer team.
With the 2021 season beginning tonight at Hot Springs, head coach Rick Friday has a younger group of players but no less of an expectation.
“Typically, last year was their year to learn,” he said of his team. “And they didn’t get that. We’re going to have to learn on the fly.
“It’s a work in progress right now,” the coach allowed. “Basically, working for two years before we play a game is not helping.”
And a week of heavy snow that prevented the Hornets from practicing a week before last wasn’t conducive to progress either.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another.
The winning tradition the Hornets have established will help, Friday acknowledged.
“What’s good is a lot of those (former players) come back,” he mentioned. “They’re still hanging around. So, the young guys are around them too. So, it’s not like those guys just left and now it’s brand new. They’re talking to these kids.
“Those kids feel like this is home. They’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, and they still want to be a part of it.”
Regarding this season’s squad, Friday said, “Grant Jacuzzi’s going to lead the line. He should have a pretty good season this year if he does what I think he can do. I pretty much told him I’m going to need about 15 goals, 10 assists from him this season.
“Landon Nelson will play beside him and Kevin Torres,” he continued. “Underneath them, probably Kevin Garza and Adrian Durazno then Brian Esteban will sit behind them and help clean up and move the ball around through the midfield.
“The back line, we’re just going to be really young,” the coach related. “We have one senior (Johnny Chicas), two sophomores (George Terry and Miguel Romero) and a junior (Caleb Miller). Our starting goalkeeper will be Rihbi Sulaiman.”
Asked what he likes about the team, Friday said, “They have a lot of energy and they work really hard. The good news is they have a good attitude. They’re coachable and they come out and they work hard, which is a good thing.”
Success will depend on how quickly the young guys develop.
“Our young kids are going to have to step up fast and learn on the go and not be making the same mistake over and over and over,” Friday said.
“I feel if we’re in the top three or four in the middle of the season, it’ll be good,” he mentioned. “Hopefully, by then they’re where they need to be at and then we can just push on from there toward the end of the season.”
The Hornets will be at home on Thursday against Russellville. They’ll celebrate Senior Night to make sure they get it in, just in case something like last year occurs.