Central Arkansas Christian will go for a pair of state soccer championships this week when it plays host to the Class 4A State Tournament at Burns Park.
The Mustangs (15-2-1), the top seed from the 2-4A, will open at 4 p.m. Thursday against Stuttgart, fourth from 4-4A.
The Lady Mustangs (14-2-1), also the top seed from the 2, will begin at 2 p.m. Thursday against e-Stem, fourth from the 4.
"We are pretty comfortable," Mustang coach Fabian Mina said. "The kids are feeling good. We are looking forward to the tournament."
Said Carter Lambert, first-year coach of the Lady Mustangs: "We are optimistic about our chances, but any team can have a great game and surprise you. Our goal is to do our best, stay focused for 80 minutes while playing consistently and as a team. If we can do that, we will be happy and the season will have been a success."
The CAC boys were undefeated in conference play, sweeping past Benton Harmony Grove, 12-0; Wickes, 11-0; Arkadelphia, 6-0; Gurdon, 7-0; Mena, 4-1; Malvern, 6-1; and Arkansas Baptist on Senior Night last week, 7-0.
CAC outscored its conference opponents by a combined 53-2.
The Mustangs, who have lost only tournament games to Class 7A Little Rock Catholic and Class 6A Searcy and tied Class 5A LR Christian, 1-1, fell in the first round of the Class 5A State Tournament last year, 2-1 in overtime, to Greenbrier. They won their only state championship in 2008, and they hope to return to the final for the first time since then.
"We’ve made pretty good progress all this year," Mina said. "The team works together and plays really well."
He said Dylan Sherrill, Josh Holland, Beau Barnes, Eric Bentley and goalkeeper Seth Peterson would lead his team.
He expects Maumelle and Episcopal Collegiate to contend from the bottom half of the bracket and Valley View and Berryville from the top half.
"We fell good," he said. "We have to play all the games; you never know who can step up, but we are comfortable and just want to continue playing."
Should they keep winning, the Mustangs would advance to a 2 p.m. quarterfinal and a noon semifinal. The state championship will be at the University of Arkansas at 2 p.m. May 18.
The Lady Mustangs, who won their fourth state championship last year (Class 5A), are also undefeated conference champions, having beaten Benton Harmony Grove, 8-0; Wickes, 8-0; Arkadelphia, 6-2; Gurdon, 8-0; Mena, 1-0; Malvern, 5-0; and Arkansas Baptist on Senior Night last week, 6-0.
They swept through their conference foes, 42-2.
"We really didn’t know what to expect from other teams in our conference," Lambert said. "Our approach has been to focus on trying to be the best team we can be and not really worry about other teams. That approach has worked for us."
Maumelle and Episcopal loom in the other part of the bottom half of the state tournament bracket.
"We will have to have good games against very solid Maumelle and Episcopal teams," Lambert said. "Both of them are capable of beating us if we don’t play our best soccer."
CAC has beaten Mena and Valley View, two of the top teams in Class 4A, 1-0 and 2-1, respectively. They are in the opposite half of the bracket.
Rachel Mina scored late for the difference against Mena.
"She had missed some easy shots earlier, but never gave up and scored a great goal in the end," Lambert said. "(Mena has) two exchange students from Germany who are excellent players, and they have great team speed. We played at Mena in hail, rain, and cold temperatures. It was a challenging game. We were pleased that we fought to the very end.
"Valley View is a very solid team. They really don’t have any weaknesses. Freshman Lynley Childress scored a fantastic goal on a 25 yard curling shot that caught their keeper off guard in the first half and senior Brooke Lieblich chipped the ball over their keeper in the first few minutes of the second half when she took advantage of a miscommunication between their defenders and goalie. They scored near the end of the second half, which disappointed us. We lost our focus for just a minute and they took advantage."
Should the Lady Mustangs win their opener, they would advance to a noon Friday quarterfinal and a 10 a.m. Saturday semifinal. The state championship will be at noon on May 18 at the University of Arkansas. Lambert said his team would like to see Valley View or Mena in the final.
Lambert said the Lady Mustangs had relied heavily on their defense all year.
"Defenders Falan Miller, Samantha Lieblich, Maria Martinez and Jessica Saunders have combined with defensive mid-fielder Katherine Rawlins to limit shots on our goal," he said. "I think that has been the key to our success."
Goalkeeper Jessica McCauley has been injured recently. In her absence, freshman Josie Bates has stepped into goal.
"We think Jessica will be back for the tournament, but we have confidence in Josie, too," Lambert said. "We really have confidence in all of our substitutes should we need them. They have all played a lot this year and have gotten better every game."