Photo by Kenzi Brenton
The last thing that Bryant Lady Hornets head coach Julie Long wants to hear from anybody is that the 2015 Class 7A State girls’ soccer championship was decided last Saturday at Bryant Stadium.
Yes, her team defeated the three-time defending State champion, Bentonville, and avenged last year’s heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the Lady Tigers in the State title match.
Yes, Bentonville went undefeated to win the 7A-West Conference, including two wins over runner-up Fayetteville, which will face the Lady Hornets this Saturday in the real 2015 Class 7A State championship at the University of Arkansas (in Fayetteville).
And, yes, the Lady Hornets defeated Fayetteville’s Lady Bulldogs twice in non-conference matches earlier this season.
Long knows all that and she doesn’t want to hear it this week as her team prepares to the final, which commences at 2 p.m.
“I try to shut them up real quick,” she said of anybody that brings it up. “It makes me mad when people say that.
“Honestly, the whole time, we’ve just been trying to focus on the fact that it’s not been decided,” she continued. “We’ve been watching film all week on Fayetteville and the two games we’ve played with them already. They had some chances that they’d missed that they could’ve easily finished and it would’ve been a different game.
“I think the girls know that they still have to come out and take care of business. They’re excited they beat Bentonville but it’s going to mean nothing if they don’t finish it off.”
Bryant and Fayetteville played at a tournament in Fort Smith on March 7 and the Lady Hornets prevailed 3-1 (go here). They met again roughly halfway between the two towns in Russellville on April 11 and the Lady Hornets won 2-0 (see here).
“They’re just a very physical team,” Long said. “They’re going to play us a physical and hard game no matter what. They’re not going to back off. They’re going to play us a tough game.
“They play very direct so we’ve been really working with our defense as far as just dropping and making sure they don’t get in behind us on balls over the top,” she related. “And we’ve been trying to pick apart a few things from them and maybe try to get an easy opportunity from a couple of things that we’ve seen.”
Actually Long is pretty confident her team will be primed to play on Saturday and that stems from last year’s bitter disappointment when they were denied the title. Bryant’s never won a State championship in soccer.
“I think the biggest is that they got there last year, that they were in this same situation a year before,” she acknowledged and referred to Saturday’s win over Bentonville in the semifinals and the stellar performance by senior keeper Maddie Hawkins.
“Maddie stepped up huge Saturday,” Long noted. “I asked her, after the game, why, and she said, because she didn’t want to feel the same way that she did last year when McKenzie (Dixon of Bentonville) scored (the go-ahead goal) on her.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things,” she emphasized. “They’ve been there and they don’t want to feel the way they felt after that last game. Especially with that being the only game that they lost last year. It killed them.”
So they’ll need to play with confidence but while being away that nothing’s automatic, that they don’t want to be denied again.
“Keeping their heads right,” is how Long put it. “I think that if we come out and we play our game and we don’t get into the direct stuff — because we don’t play very direct. We are very much a passing, possession type team and we wait for our opportunities to come.
“So I think the key is going to be that we control how the game’s played and the pace of the game and we don’t get into the kick-ball situation, which we did on Saturday with Bentonville,” she concluded. “If we can control that side of it and finish the opportunities that we get, we have a really good shot. But I think that the biggest key is going to be getting the girls’ heads right and coming out and playing the way that they can play.”