In a year where Razorback soccer had several senior players shine, the season also brought to light many young stars whom fans can look forward to seeing play in the coming seasons.
“Experience goes a long ways,” head coach Colby Hale said. “(Our model) is built for sustained success. Every team is new, every year is new and we’ll have a new challenge next year. We’ll probably be picked a little more highly next year (in the preseason rankings), and so with that will come a different set of challenges. We’ve got a lot of talent coming back and a lot of good kids coming in.”
Hale’s Razorbacks went 18-5-3 in the 2016 campaign, reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament and reached the Southeastern Conference Championship. They finished ranked No. 18 in the nation, but were at one point a program-high No. 9 after beating both No. 2 Duke and No. 4 Florida.
While many seniors are leaving the team this year, such as stars Cameron Carter, Lindsey Mayo and Claire Kelley, the Hogs have plenty of young talent returning to their roster. The Razorbacks have 12 freshmen, including the high-scoring standouts Stefani Doyle and Kayla McKeon, who are able to return next year.
The team also has nine other players who are eligible to return for the upcoming season. The underclassmen had a major impact statistically during the Razorbacks’ breakout season.
During the season, Arkansas outscored its opponents 51-26, led opponents 394-296 in shots and led opponents 152-88 in corner kicks. These were consistent patterns throughout the season that were by physical and aggressive play.
This level of success came as no surprise to Hale.
“I think we go into every season expecting to be successful,” Hale said. “We have high expectations for ourselves, we set the bar extremely high (but) we don’t set a lot of goals. We didn’t go in saying ‘Hey, we want to do A, B and C,’ we just came in and said ‘We can be good and we’ve got to work hard.’ I feel like the results take care of themselves.”
Hale expects there to be a jump in the team’s already impressive play, especially from his group of freshmen.
“I think traditionally, if you have the right mindset, there’s a big jump between your freshman and your sophomore year,” Hale said. “Freshman year you kind of come in and you’re making the adjustment to college versus club or high school with new coaches (and) teammates. If they’re hungry, I think we expect all of our players to get better from one year to the next.”