Two games, four goals and two wins sum up the past weekend for Razorback soccer, and players credit their increased chemistry on the pitch for helping them after a rough start to the season.
Arkansas bounced back from two away losses at Connecticut on Sept. 7 and Providence on Sept. 10 with wins at home against Mississippi State on Sept. 14 and Oral Roberts on Sept. 16. The team beat MSU, 1-0, and ORU, 3-1.
The Hogs already have four losses this season, one away from the total number of losses the team had all last season. However, players said they have found ways to grow as a group and learn how to play better together.
“I think we’re a lot more comfortable (with each other) than we were before,” redshirt junior Reid Sibley said. “We’re figuring out what each of us want, how each of us play, so I think we’re only going to get stronger.”
Senior defender Jessi Hartzler said the slow start to the season further drove the team together even more.
“One thing we can take away from our losses this year is that we’ve been through adversity,” Hartzler said. “We know what it’s like to be down and that made us even closer by trying to fight through that negativity and win more games.”
Beyond the pitch, it’s more of the same story, Sibley said.
“On and off the field we’ve gotten stronger because of the losses,” Sibley said “We spent a lot of time together too because our flight got delayed and I think that we have to lean on each other and get stronger from each other.”
The Razorbacks have a very young team this year with over half the roster being freshmen, so the team chemistry building has, as expected, been slower than past seasons, coach Colby Hale said.
“When you have 15 new players, it takes time sometimes,” Hale said. “Overall, we’re getting there. We’re making progress, we were better this week than we were last week and that’s always the goal.”
Hartzler said the new players are getting more and more acquainted to the team’s strategies as time goes on.
“Each week we get more used to each other,” Hartzler said. “It’s been really good to see the younger players get comfortable in their positions with the team.”
Freshmen are all over the box scores this year for the Hogs. They have scored 18 out of the team’s 31 goals this season.
“All the freshman are great,” Hartzler said. “They bring so much energy and they’re just determined to do well and all us upperclassmen are fully supportive of them.”
The first-year Hogs’ offensive dominance is something this Arkansas side has not seen before this season, Sibley said.
“They’ve really stepped up,” Sibley said. “They bring an aspect to our team that we haven’t had before, they’re very talented and they know how to find the goal.”
With the help of their freshmen, the Hogs have one of the most efficient offenses in the country as they currently sit in the top five of the NCAA leaderboards for total goals, goals per game, shots per game and shots on goal per game.
Defensively, the Hogs markedly improved this weekend. Against Connecticut and Providence, Arkansas gave up seven goals. Six of those came in the final 10 minutes of a half or in overtime. This weekend, Arkansas allowed one goal and only seven shots on target against MSU and ORU combined.
“We have to stay sharp for 90 minutes,” Hale said following the Oral Roberts game. “We told ourselves that after last weekend, and I think this match and this weekend as a whole is going to help us in the long run.”
Freshman forward Parker Goins is the Hogs’ leading scorer with seven of her shots finding the back of the net, placing her at No. 4 on the Southeastern Conference scoring leaders table.
Sophomore forward Stefani Doyle and freshman midfielder Nayeli Perez lead the team in assists with five a piece, which also ranks them in the top 10 in the SEC and top 35 in the country.
The non-conference season ended with the game against Oral Roberts, so the Hogs will go up against SEC opponents for the remainder of the season. They will start with a visit to Nashville, Tennessee, to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores at 7 p.m. Thursday and return home to face the Ole Miss Rebels at 4 p.m Sunday.