Returning strength, long off-season has Hornets eager to play

File photo by Rick Nation

Finally, it’s time for the Bryant Hornets soccer team to play a real game.

The Hornets open the regular season host the Little Rock Hall Warriors on Tuesday then host Russellville on Thursday before heading to Fort Smith for a tournament over the weekend. Weather permitting, it’ll be a busy week of action.

“Preseason’s gone good,” said Bryant’s second-year head coach Richard Friday. “I think the kids are ready for a game. We’ve had a full off-season, pre-season. We’ve been training since August and they’re tired of training. Once the games start and they start seeing what they’re playing for, consistency will pick up. Right now, I seem more like a slave-driver to them.

“I think we’ll be good,” he asserted. “We have a lot returning from last year. So, offensively, we’ll be good. Defensively, I don’t know yet. We have to replace a lot of our backline from last year. One graduated, one moved down to Hot Springs — that was Jack Selig, who made all-state last year. Replacing those guys is going to be — these guys haven’t been tested yet. So, I don’t know what we have.

“We’ve worked a lot on how we’re going to defend and defending from the front,” the coach mentioned. “Hopefully, that will provide a little bit of protection because we lost two good goalkeepers, both went on to play in college. So, that whole area of the field is brand new. We need to play some games to see how they do.”

Friday was encouraged by how the defense held up in their pre-season scrimmage against Bryant alums.

“They did well,” he stated. “It was a 2-2 game, but I did a whole line change. We rotated everybody off and everybody on and we gave up two goals right then. It’s one of those things that’s not going to happen in a game. But my starting defensive group, I don’t think they even allowed a shot.

“We’ve got to be a little better at capitalizing on our opportunities,” Friday related. “We had eight legitimate opportunities, we should have scored on. It was one of those things, like we had last year, where if you keep teams in (the game), keep it tight, anything can happen.

“I think the competition will be there,” he said. “I think they still think that everybody’s going to get a chance to play. I think once the season starts and they start realizing ‘they’re playing; I not playing’, hopefully, it’ll start pushing them harder, trying to take spots, which will be good,” he said. “We’re that deep that we can have a good rotation through the season. That’s one thing I noticed last year. We really pushed the guys and worked them hard. I think we worked them harder than any other program in the state, but I noticed at the end of the season, the starters pretty much played 80 to 90 percent of the game. As you get into the season, legs start wearing on you. A lot of our lopsided victories were right at the beginning of the season. Then, it’s 1-0, 2-1, like that toward the end of the season.

The new keepers the coach mentioned are Arron Sahlmann and Adolfo Martinez.

“They both are hungry to start and play so I think they’ll push each other,” said Friday. “We’ve got a whole group of kids that are back. It’s funny because, you look at some of the positions, we don’t have a lot of depth. Then, you look at a lot of midfield and attacking positions, we’ve got so much depth. I’m having to turn attackers into defenders just so they can get playing time.”

Asked to go over who might play in each spot, Friday said, “Up top, you have Martin Ramirez, Cole Gillespie, Jonathan Guerra. In the midfield area, we have Alan Delgadillo, Jhorman Cruz, Ricky Barrientos. We could slot Luis Lara in there, Dawson Oakley, Henry Chun, Danny Linares. Brian Ibarra would be good to slide in there too. Brandon Delgadillo. At the wide positions, Edgar Tejada, Oscar Jiminez, Alberto Rodarte. On the other side, Henry Terry, Gilberto Cardenas and I could bring a couple of sophomores in there too.

“On the back line, Luke Welch and Reese Graham are seniors. Thomas Bullington is a junior and I can bring in Christopher Fuller and I can rotate one of those wide players back into those positions.”

Ramirez was all-state in 2017 while Barrientos was named all-State tournament. Welch, Cruz, Oakley and Lara were all-conference picks.

Friday said Oaklay and Barrientos have developed into leaders for the team.

“Honestly, if I look at the team overall as a whole, one of the weakest things is leadership among the kids,” he allowed. “It’s a good group of kids and it’s fun to watch them play. They make it fun. They go out there and joke around and have fun but sometimes they’re still young and immature and don’t know when to hit that switch to go and take it seriously. I enjoy them but sometimes I’m pulling my hair out. But it’s a good group.”

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