Joe Thoma is back leading the boys’ program, which he began in 1990, after coaching the Fayetteville girls team only the past several seasons.
“It’s been a lot of fun coaching them again,” Thoma said. “It feels like we’re kinda of back to where we started and we had a fun opening weekend.”
After opening the season by losing against Bryant 5-4 on shootouts (the match ended 0-0) and 2-1 against DeQueen, the Bulldogs (3-2) have won three straight matches heading into Tuesday’s 7A-West Conference opener against Bentonville at 5:30 p.m. Harmon Field.
With 14 seniors lost to graduation off last season’s squad and a new coach, it’s created a bit of a learning curve thus far.
“We only have three guys that played varsity at all last season,” Thoma said. “So we’re trying to create a culture and they’re working really hard and having fun doing it.”
Junior Princeton Chee and seniors Tyrique Lake and Hunter Young have been counted on for leadership and Thoma said he’s been keeping the rest of the lineup fairly “fluid” thus far.
“We have a bunch of different guys earning playing time,” Thoma said. “Our practices are real contested because we have so many who play hard against each other, so we’re just kind of sticking with whoever is hot that game.
“That’s where we’re at right now, and I’m proud of them. I can’t wait to see what they do.”
The Tigers enter 7A-West Conference play Tuesday with only two games under their belt, but coach Mike Devaney liked what he saw out during those two matches.
“We played a couple of competitive games against some good teams,” Devaney said after Bentonville (1-0-1) claimed a 4-3 victory over Edmond (Okla.) Santa Fe and played Mustang, Okla., to a 1-1 tie during the NWA Showcase in Springdale. “We knew what we had going into those matches, and these matches allowed us to solidify something. It’s OK.”
Miguel Wilches and Jose Castro each had two goals in the Tigers’ win over Santa Fe, then Wilches had the only goal in the tie against Mustang. Wilches is a transfer student from Colombia, while Castro returns to the Tigers after being in the Dallas area.
“We had a lot of scoring chances,” Devaney said. “Scoring five goals in two games was pleasing, and our offensive attack will present some challenges to opposing teams because we can be a handful.
“Miguel is a terrific player. He’s a good player with his back to the goal, and he’s a good finisher with either foot. He’s getting accustomed to the new surroundings, but he’s a terrific talent.”
If John Marshall has found out one thing about his team before 7A-West play begins, it’s that the Wolverines aren’t afraid to take the fight to somebody.
“We’re pretty resilient,” Marshall said. “We’ve had some tough, tough nonconference games. We played five games in five days, so we wanted to expose them the kids to a lot of physical games.
“Now we have to buckle down as we head into conference play. We found out we can match up against older players. We played Owasso, which was a very physical team, and we played Siloam Springs after four tough games. We knew we could hang with them, but we didn’t have any legs left.”
Marshall realizes conference play with be just as tough, especially on a team with no seniors like West, which begins league play Tuesday at Van Buren. This was a late change because of a track meet scheduled at West.
George Shultz has shown some good things during the nonconference schedule, particularly with set pieces. Marshall also likes what he has seen from Ethan Stockdale on defense and Tyler Guentz with his scoring capabilities, and several players have filled their role when necessary.
“We really don’t have one guy that has done everything,” Marshall said. “We have several guys who have stepped up and scored when we needed, or we’ve had guys that played strong defense when we didn’t score as much.
“As long as we can stay in our game and what we came to do, we’ll be all right,” Marshall said. “We can compete. We just have to stay in our game plan.”
— Henry Apple • @NWAHenry
The Bulldogs got a wake-up call heading into Tuesday’s 7A-West opener against Rogers Heritage at Jarrell Williams Bulldogs Stadium.
On Saturday, a mental lapse on a set piece led to the winning goal for Edmond (Okla.) Santa Fe in a 2-1 victory over Springdale. It was the Bulldogs’ first loss of the season.
“This was the first time that we’ve fallen asleep and didn’t take care of responsibilities, but we’re got a good group,’ said Springdale coach Donald Beeler. “We’ve got good depth and we’re comfortable in our system.
“It’s just those little moments of execution that can come back and bite you for a little bit.”
Other than that, Beeler has been pleased with the performances thus far. The Bulldogs won their first four matches by outscoring opponents 15-1. He said the key has been staying punched in for every minute of most matches, save for the Santa Fe slip up.
“It’s been being really disciplined and doing all the little things right,” Beeler said. “We’ll hopefully fix it. It wasn’t a conference game and that’s why we play these games.”
Springdale begins league play Tuesday against the War Eagles, who grabbed a 3-0 win against Mustang, Okla., over the weekend in the NWA Showcase. Springdale then makes the short drive to Har-Ber Thursday.
– Mike Capshaw • @MikeCapshaw & Scottie Bordelon • @NWAScottie
Har-Ber opens conference play 2-0 behind a home 4-1 home win against Jenks, Okla., and a 4-3 win against Little Rock Central in the last week and a half.
Esteban Fuentes scored a pair of goals against Jenks while Jesus Zizumbo, Har-Ber football’s placekicker, added another and Juan Mejia scored one of his own. Zizumbo and Sandro Ramirez also scored in Har-Ber’s win at Central.
An early leg up in the 7A-West is on the line Thursday as Har-Ber welcomes in Springdale High.
– Scottie Bordelon • @NWAScottie
The Mounties (2-2) picked up two big wins on Saturday, blanking Van Buren and Greenwood by a combined score of 10-0.
Rogers dropped a pair of tight matches by one goal to Russellville and Fort Smith Northside before rolling over its last two opponents. Jessie Ramirez and Alex Balderas had two goals each in the win over Van Buren.
Ramirez and Willie Hernandez had one goal and one assists in the win over Greenwood. The Mounties open league play against Springdale Har-Ber on Tuesday.
The War Eagles are off to a great 4-0 start, including a tough 1-0 win over Little Rock Catholic over the weekend in the NWA Showcase. Coach Christhian Saavedra said he’s been able to give some youngers players opportunities thanks to all the experience he returns.
“Having so many returners, I already know what those guys bring to the field,” Saavedra said. “So I’ve had the luxury of trying new kids out. That’s new to me. I haven’t been able to do that before. If somebody didn’t show up to practice, I was calling them worrying about where they were.
“The one’s I have used have stepped up to the plate. The theme of the last four games is it’s been different battles, but we’ve figured out different ways to fight them. That says a lot about the team character and I’m happy with them.”
Freshman Santiago Martinez got a goal in Heritage’s win over a previously undefeated Mustang, Okla., team over the weekend.
Heritage opens 7A-West play against Springdale High on Tuesday, then hosts crosstown rival Rogers High on Friday.
— Paul Boyd • @NWAPaulB