Central Arkansas Christian’s Lady Mustangs will go for their sixth state championship since 2006 when the Class 4A State Soccer Tournament begins Friday at Burns Park.
"I would think we’re going to be one of the stronger teams," CAC coach Carter Lambert said. "There aren’t any real surprises in the bracket. Valley View and Maumelle are two of the stronger teams, and Valley View is on our side of the bracket and top seed from their conference. They’re going to be a very difficult team to play."
The Lady Mustangs were 13-2 after Monday’s 10-0 win at Gurdon and are seeded first from the 2-4A. They will open play at 2 p.m. Friday on Field 7 against Conway Christian, fourth seed from the 3-4A. The winner will get the survivor of Warren, No. 2 from the 4-4A, and Bergman, third from the 1-4A, in Saturday’s noon quarterfinal. That winner will face in the semifinals the last team standing among Valley View, top seed from the 3-4A, and Malvern, No. 4 from the 2-4A; and Berryville, No. 2 from the 1-4A, against eStem, third from the 4-4A.
Semifinal winners will advance to the University of Arkansas for the state championship at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 24.
"One of the big matches will be us and Valley View," Lambert said. "Either one of us could easily be in the final and one of the favorites. I know they beat Maumelle, and Maumelle is a strong team and could also be in the final. (Little Rock) Episcopal, too, is strong, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mena does well.
"I like to think we’ve got experience. We’ve played a lot of games in different circumstances, and that’s going to help us. We’ve had to be patient and learn how to get the ball in in different ways, depending on our speed and skill players. I think we’ll be prepared. We should have everybody back and healthy."
The Lady Mustangs have non-conference losses to Searcy, 3-0, on March 15, and Pulaski Academy, 2-1, on May 6, without two of their top seniors. They rolled through the seven-game conference schedule without allowing a goal.
"We returned a real strong core from our team last year, with a good mixture of upper- and underclassmen," Lambert said. "Our results are real similar to last year. I think we played a more difficult schedule this year. We played a lot of the (Class) 4A teams that could challenge for the state title — Maumelle, Episcopal, Mena — and we were fortunate to win all of those. They were very competitive and could’ve gone either way."
The Lady Mustangs also have wins over Class 5A Hot Springs Lakeside and Class 6A El Dorado.
Senior Rachel Mina is the team’s top scorer, followed by sophomore Lynley Childress. Junior captain Katherine Rawlins is strong in the central mid-field, Lambert said. Keeper Jessica McCauley and sweeper Falan Miller, both seniors, lead the defense.
"We’re always very strong defensively," Lambert said. "We always say you can’t lose if you’re not scored on.
"We’ve got a lot of people contributing right now. We’ve got a good core of seniors, but a lot of juniors and sophomores are contributing, too."
CAC won state championships in 2006, ‘07, ‘08, ‘12 and ‘13.