By Rob Patrick
Over the last four seasons under the guidance of head coach Julie Long, the expectations for[more] the Bryant Lady Hornets soccer team have grown and grown. There was a time not so long ago that just getting to the State Tournament was the mark of a successful season for the program. But no more.
Each of those four seasons, the Lady Hornets felt they were good enough to win it all. In the first year, maybe it was as much hope as it was belief but certainly when they reached the State semifinals that year, a win away from playing for the championship, they realized they were a team of title quality.
In 2011, they won a State game on PKs and lost one on PKs, so they knew how close they were. And last year when they earned a first-round bye for the first time by finishing second in the Central Conference, they knew it could be their year. However, they were upset by Fayetteville in their first game, a bitter defeat for the team and Long.
On Friday, the 2013 Lady Hornets open play at State in Cabot with designs on a trip to the finals. Their first assignment, at 4 p.m., will be the winner of a first-round match played Thursday between Cabot and Rogers.
Again with a first-round bye after cruising unbeaten through the truncated South Conference (two schools in the league don’t have girls soccer programs) and posting a program-high 18 wins (so far), the Bryant girls expect success.
“We’re just focusing on one day at a time, one game at a time,” Long said. “Even with practice this week, everything’s just been, ‘Let’s get through today.’ They’re really anxious and that’s a good thing.”
And what’s different about this squad that those of the past?
“Honestly, it’s the first time in four years that they have all said they don’t care who they play,” Long related. “It’s not a cocky attitude, it’s just that they don’t care who they play, they’re just ready to play.
“Even last year, it was ‘Who do we have first? Who do we have second?’” she said. “This year, their attitude is just, ‘Let us play.’”
Though Long has not wanted to make a big deal about it through the season, it’s no secret that the South Conference does not play to the levels of what her team will see at State or even what they contended with in the Central Conference before being moved prior to this season.
“They know there’s going to be a huge adjustment between what they’ve been playing — and I think that’s my biggest fear, for sure, and probably theirs too — just, can they make that jump in one game? We’ll see how it goes.”
Long acknowledges she has better depth this year than she’s ever had. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that some of the toughest competition the varsity has faced this season has come from the junior varsity in practice. There’s just not much drop-off, in any, when the coach subs.
“If the girls will just show up and play how they can play, they know they can be where they want to be at the end of the season,” Long asserted. “The big thing is if they will show up and play.”