Central Arkansas Christian’s soccer teams, having already secured 3A-South conference titles, will begin their quest today to bring two more state championship trophies back to Mustang Mountain.
Carter Lambert’s Lady Mustangs (8-2-1) have a bye in today’s opening round at Burns Park and will play in Friday’s 10 a.m. quarterfinal against the winner of the first-round match between Lisa Academy West and Conway St. Joseph.
Billy Sullivan’s Mustangs (9-3-2) will face Lincoln at noon today with the winner moving on to Friday’s quarterfinal against the winner of today’s game between Hermitage and Cave City.
The Lady Mustangs are aiming for their 10th state title.
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“We’ve had a good season,” Lambert said. “We’ve progressed really well, and we‘ve gotten better as the season has gone on. We are probably the youngest team we’ve had here in many years, but as always, we’ve got some good leadership from our upperclassmen.”
The roster includes five seniors, but in the final regular-season game last week (a 2-1 non-conference loss to Episcopal Collegiate), Lambert said he started five or six freshmen.
“We had two seniors and a junior and the rest were sophomores and freshmen,” he said. “We’ve been battling some with Covid and injuries, but it’s always a good sign when eight of your starters are underclassmen.”
The rest of the bracket includes first-round games between Green Forest and Cossatot River,
Cave City and Hermitage, Episcopal and Riverview, Maumelle Charter and Lincoln, Harding Academy and Lake Village and Life Way Christian and Haskell Harmony Grove.
Semifinals are set for 10 a.m. and noon Saturday, with the championship game at Benton next week.
Lambert said Harding Academy and Episcopal would be among the favorites to win the state title.
“They both beat us this year and looked very strong,” he said. “On our side of the bracket, Green Forest apparently is very strong. I would expect them to be very competitive. However, you never know. Soccer’s like that.”
He said most of his roster would be healthy for the state tournament.
“I’ve been pleased by the progress that we’ve made,” he said. “Other players step in when someone goes down. You miss those players, but you’ve got to play as a team.
“If we play our best, we’ll be very happy.”
The Mustangs ended their regular season last week with a 3-2 win against Episcopal Collegiate that could boost them heading into the postseason.
“As the 1 seed from a competitive conference, we feel really good about our chances this year,” Sullivan said. “The win against Episcopal (another 1 seed) gave us the momentum we wanted going into state.
“But with a week between the games, it is tough to say how we will come out (today) versus Lincoln. I think our guys are ready to go. We have some idea about what Lincoln may try to do against us, but the rest of our side is unknown.”
The other first-round games include Green Forest against Cossatot River, Conway St. Joseph against Lisa Academy West, Episcopal against Buffalo Island Central, Centerpoint against Life Way Christian, Harding Academy against Lisa Academy North and Decatur against Maumelle Charter.
“Looking at the rest of the bracket, Green Forest and Harding Academy both have the potential to make a deep run,” Sullivan said. “Green Forest is undefeated on the season, and Harding Academy has good results against some teams in higher classifications.
“If I had to pick another team from our conference to watch, it would be Centerpoint. We had a tough result against them during the regular season, and they have a powerful attack up top and in the middle.”
First-round winners will play in Friday’s quarterfinals, at noon and 4 p.m. Quarterfinal winners will advance to Saturday’s semifinals at 10 a.m. and noon. The championship will be next week in Benton.