In a year of ups and downs for Razorback sports, the soccer team and its season of firsts continues to consistently shine.
The team has achieved the best starting record in Arkansas soccer history at 13-1. It also started 6-0 in Southeastern Conference play, another first. Prior to this season, its best win was against a No. 16 team; this year the team has beaten No. 2 and No. 4.
For Razorback soccer, chemistry has been a key part of their success this year. A key to that chemistry is familiarity. The Hogs have 12 players on their roster who come from the Dallas area. Six of those 12 played for the same club – the Dallas Sting.
The group of six players consists of freshmen Stefani Doyle, Kayla McKeon, Cailee Dennis, Jazmyn Sollars, sophomore Qyara Winston and junior Hannah Neece.
The youthful group appears to be extremely familiar with one another this season. Players can come together and hold each other accountable without fear of miscommunication, senior Cameron Carter said.
“A lot of us grew up playing for the same club, like for the Sting, and we had the same coach, so learning his play-style and then coming onto Arkansas and trying to play the same way, I feel like we connected more,” Doyle said.
Doyle, Dennis and redshirt freshman Reid Sibley all attended Hebron High School in Lewisville, Texas.
“I’m older, so I came here before (the other two), but I think it does help having friends and just being able to kind of take them under my wing a little bit since I’m older,” Sibley said.
The familiarity between the players, whether they were from club teams or high school, had an impact on recruiting the next freshman class. Having a friendly face to come to with questions about the new collegiate world seems to affect the decisions of young athletes, Sibley said.
“Knowing that Reid (Sibley) came here, I could ask her questions about the school that maybe I wouldn’t have asked another upperclassman,” Dennis said. “I feel like I’d be more comfortable asking her the questions than anyone else (at the time).”
But, with familiarity often comes conflict, and the team is not immune to that. Dallas combines a small-town rivalry attitude with big-city competition. Instead of letting that competition with each other turn into bitterness, the players said they turn it into something much more constructive.
“Some classes played within clubs that were in the same metroplex, so I think it actually created some type of competition,” senior Alexandra Fischer said. “Everybody’s club thought they were the best club. It was kind of interesting to see different dynamics and that everybody played a different way, everybody saw something differently, but then it all came together as one. You have a sense of pride in your hometown, and we all have pride in Dallas.”
Having so many players come from that area and not only go to a Division I school, but to excel at that school, comes as no surprise to Kenneth Medina, director of soccer for the Dallas Sting.
“That’s been the makeup of our club for many years,” Medina said. “But to have as many kids go to one school and then perform so well, I mean, it makes us all very proud of what they’re doing and their accomplishments.”
Medina said he is fond of his former players.
“I’m not really that surprised, considering the type of people they are,” Medina said. “They understand that it’s a lot of hard work to get where you are and that it’s not just a matter of getting there, it’s a matter of continuing to keep moving forward.”
The successful players coming out of the Dallas pipeline aren’t just doing well in their sport, they are giving an example of what it takes to succeed to both the Northwest Arkansas community and their hometown communities and clubs.
“To go on this journey, and then when they finish the journey, that they have something to look forward to beyond the club part of it, it gives us proof,” Medina said. “What we’re doing within our organization, it definitely bears fruit at the end.”
Head coach Colby Hale said the Dallas area is a good source collegiate talent.
“Dallas is just really good at soccer,” Hale said. “You know, it’s a hot bed, and we’re trying to get some of the best players from the best clubs, and the best teams and the best coaches. I think anytime that you do that, they’re used to playing at a competitive, high level. I mean they’ve come from some of the best teams in the country.
The teams that the Dallas-area players face in their developmental years help these them get used to the competitive spirit needed to go head-to-head with Division I schools.
“McKeon, Stef, Cailee Dennis and Jaz all played on a team that was ranked top two or three in the country. They’re playing with and against the best teams in the country, and I think that prepares them well for college.”
With a 14-4 record on the season, the No. 12-ranked Razorbacks are looking to overcome a tough home loss against Kentucky with a road trip to face LSU in Baton Rouge on Oct. 27. This game will be followed by the SEC Tournament, which starts Oct. 31 in Orange Beach, Alabama.