A lot has happened to the Bryant Lady Hornets soccer team since this time last year. Two weeks into their 2020 season, like all other high school spring sports, everything was shut down. And it cost them the entire campaign, a chance to repeat as Class 6A State champions.
But even more harrowing, was the death of their tremendous head coach Nicole Inman, who had been battling brain cancer even when she led the team to its State title. It took a turn for the worse last spring and, last Fall, she passed away.
Her twin daughters, Abbey and Ashton, who have signed to play at Ouachita Baptist University this fall, are seniors on the Lady Hornets’ team this season.
Olivia Allard, a four-year star player at Rogers then at University of the Ozarks, was in her first year of teaching at Bryant in 2019-20 and had volunteered to assist Inman. When the cancer began to take a heavy toll on the head coach, Allard was named interim head coach and, subsequently, assumed the head coaching job.
“It’s been a lot,” Allard said of taking over the tradition-rich Lady Hornets’ program. “Obviously, there’s times that the girls feel it on different levels. It shows up at different times. But a lot of times, it’s actually the idea that, you know, ‘Y’all aren’t doing this for me. You’re taking everything that Nicole instilled in you guys; you’re taking everything you accomplished with her and we’re putting that into practice here. Y’all are really out there doing it for her, doing it for each other.’
“And that’s really kind of been a big motivator for them,” she asserted.
It’s a senior-laden team that will be, though delayed, defending a State championship.
Along with the Inmans, keeper Addison Funk along with Katie Sucher, Rachel Buck, Jullian Colclasure and Jackie Atilano have the most playing expriece. Seniors also include Ellie O’Gary, Maddy Knight, Madie Williams, Caroline Pelton and Makayla Chandler.
“They’re itching to play,” Allard said. “They keep telling me, ‘We’re ready to play a game.’ I tell them, ‘I hear you, girls.’
“We have seven seniors starting and they’re ones that have been on the field,” he acknowledged. “They’ve seen it. They know what this competition is like.”
The team debuts tonight at Hot Springs. They’ll take on Russellville in their home opener on Thursday, celebrating Senior Night to make sure they get it in just in case something similar to last year occurs.
“We look pretty good,” Allard said. “Obviously, having that snow break for a week — you mentally prep for a spring break week. You don’t plan for snow in mid-February. But before that and even now, they’re ready to go. We’re in pretty good shape. They’re just ready to get after it at this point.”
The coach said that Abbey Inman and Sucher will be the team’s starting center backs. Colclasure will be one of the outside backs.
“Defensively, we’ll be pretty solid,” said the coach. “We’re still filling one more spot back there but have three center backs that are seniors that have been there and done it is going to be huge for us.”
In the midfield, Allard said, “Hannah Brewer, a freshman will start as our holding mid. She was a freshman last year, so nobody saw her but she’s a good little player.
“Ashton Inman and Rachel Buck are our counter mids,” she continued. “Jackie Atilano will be one of our outside wings. We have two freshmen that will also help out, starting up top, Lily Miller is our target forward and Kaylee Fluger will be our outside mid.
“Having more leadership up top with Ashton and Rachel is going to be huge,” said the coach. “We do have those two freshmen — and we have a bunch of freshmen that will kind of work their way through but they’re fast. That will be helpful.”
The team’s juniors are Jaycee Clemmer, Zoe Turner, Madelyn Sanders, Whitney Schleiff, Melissa Ramirez and Haide Linares-Ramos.
Other sophomores on the team include Grayson Johnson, Estafania Ramierz, Kate Chumley, Riley Long, Keiry Santamaria, Gabi Peret and Miranda Merkel.
Freshmen include Brae Page, Karen Giron, Julia Murray, Amelia Holley, Cameron Caffey, Katie Corley, Aalihay Cooke, Kaci Ausbrooks and Alexis Pablo.
Asked what she likes about her team, Allard said, “I love that they’ve been through so much and they use that to be their motivation. They’re a group that no matter how hard they get knocked down, they’re just going to get back up and they’re going to fight 10 times harder to show people how great they can be.
“The other thing that I love about them is they don’t say, ‘We’re fantastic, we’re wonderful, we’re awesome.’ They show it on the field,” she related. “Every day they go out and battle. They play and they do what they’re trying to do.”