Central Arkansas Christian’s Lady Mustangs will play for the seventh state championship in school history in the Class 4A State Soccer Finals on Friday in Fayetteville.
Carter Lambert’s Lady Mustangs (17-0-1) will face Joe T. Robinson (13-4), their 2-4A conference foe, at 4 p.m. at the University of Arkansas Razorback Field.
CAC has three previous wins over the Lady Senators by a combined score of 21-1 (7-1 on March 9, 7-0 on April 27 and 7-0 in the 2-4A District Tournament final May 6).
“I told everyone that Robinson could beat anyone on a given day, and they proved me right,” Lambert said. “They have gotten better all year long, and it is always difficult to beat a good team multiple times in a season. We are just going to continue to focus on doing our best and sacrificing for each other. We will be satisfied if we can accomplish those goals.”
CAC, top seed from the 2-4A, rolled through three state tournament games at Southside Batesville last week by a combined score of 19-1. The Lady Mustangs knocked off Brookland, fourth seed from the 3-4A, 8-0; Shiloh Christian, third from the 1, 4-1; and Dardanelle, second from the 1, 7-0.
“Southside did a great job hosting the tournament under tough circumstances, but it was a challenging weekend for everyone due to the weather and field conditions,” Lambert said. “I feel we were taken out of our comfort zone and given the opportunity to become a better team.”
The Lady Mustangs had to endure a long weather delay before the opening game against Brookland.
“The Lyon College field had standing water due to the storm, so we had to play pretty direct,” Lambert said. “Passing on the ground was difficult, as was dribbling. McKenna Moore scored two quick goals in the first five minutes. Amalie Gunn (two), Lauren Johnson (three ) and McKenna (one) scored six more in the next 20 minutes. We were concerned that the second wave of storms was going to make us go to another long delay; however, we finished the first half right before the lightning and rain hit. The officials called the game due to weather and field conditions. Some of the other teams had long delays because they didn’t complete a half before the storm.”
The Lady Mustangs played the last game Friday at Lyon in the quarterfinals.
“There wasn’t as much standing water, but the field was really muddy and slick,” Lambert said. “We played Shiloh Christian for the second year in a row in the second round. They were probably the most difficult team to play under those conditions. They are very physical and just compete really hard. They usually are the team that gives us our most competitive game. This year was no different.”
Moore put the Lady Mustangs up 1-0 in the first five minutes.
“But it was really scrappy for the next 25 minutes, and Shiloh scored on a corner kick that Madyson Bowman had covered, but the ball just slipped from her fingers and we were unable to clear,” Lambert said. “We responded really well with Kelly Chism scoring within the next minute for us to go back up 2-1.”
For the second half, the Lady Mustangs made a few adjustments, moving Riley Sullivan into more of a defensive role and Lauren Johnson into midfield.
“It really settled the game for us,” Lambert said. “Riley is so calm and reads everything really well. She was almost like a second sweeper with Kelson Miller, our regular sweeper, who along with our stopper, Carson Swede, is among the most complete defenders in the state. Carson played her strongest game of the year thus far. She is a real big game player. Lauren was able to match their physicality in midfield and combined well with Claire Vest. Brittney Perry was given the responsibility of marking their best player, and she got the player so frustrated that she was ineffective in the second half and wound up being dismissed late in the game.
“Amalie Gunn was beat up the whole game. They gave up trying to run with her and just banged and held her the whole time. That occupied two or three defenders and opened things up for McKenna, and she turned their left back inside out. We scored on a tremendous header four minutes into the second half on a free kick from Amalie to Lauren. We got one more from McKenna and were happy to move on. It was a real team effort.”
The shift to the turf at Southside for the semifinals against Dardanelle was a welcome change from the mud of the first two rounds..
“It was a pretty amazing performance for us,” Lambert said. “We scored three goals in the first six minutes and three more within 20 minutes. Amalie had a great game and scored four goals. She passed up running in the three events she had qualified for in the Meet of Champs to be with the team. We’ve talked about being committed to each other and sacrificing for each other all season. She set the tone on Saturday.”
Moore, Johnson and Sullivan each scored a goal against the Lady Lizards.
“Everyone got significant minutes in the second half, so it was a great way to finish out the game,” Lambert said.
Robinson, second seed from the 2-4A, came out of the top half of the bracket by knocking off Heber Springs, third from the 3-4A, 3-0; Episcopal Collegiate, first from the 4-4A, 3-0; and Berryville, first from the 1, 2-1 in penalty kicks.
Besides the three losses to CAC, the Lady Senators have fallen only to Class 7A Bryant, 5-2. CAC’s only blemish is a 2-2 tie with Class 7A Mount St. Mary.
“We are excited about the opportunity to defend our state title,” Lambert said. “We feel we are a more balanced team this year. Last year our core was sophomores and freshmen. They are a year older and more experienced now. That should help. Though limited in number, we have strong senior leadership. That is always a plus. Win or lose, we are committed to each other and to doing our best.”
To qualify for the state tournament, the Lady Mustangs rolled in the 2-4A District Tournament by a combined 19-0 (6-0 over Centerpoint, 6-0 over Baptist Prep and 7-0 over Robinson).