Central Arkansas Christian is aiming to tie the state record with its eighth girls soccer title in the Class 4A state championship game against Berryville at the University of Arkansas’s Razorback Field at 2 p.m. Saturday.
CAC coach Carter Lambert said Berryville was very athletic.
“They had a really physical game against Brookland in their semifinals, and I was impressed by their toughness,” he said. “We will need to be at our best on Saturday. We aren’t taking anything for granted. Four years ago we beat Shiloh (Christian) in the semis when they were the top seed from the West and then lost to the 2 seed, Gentry, in the final. We haven’t forgotten that.
“Our goal is to do our best. We hope we can finish strong for this group of seniors and our fans.”
Berryville is 12-4 after an 0-2 start to the season. The Lady Tigers opened with losses to Class 5A Harrison, 3-0; and Shiloh Christian, 2-1 in overtime. Their other losses were to Class 5A Batesville on penalty kicks and to Dardanelle, 5-3.
Common opponents include Prairie Grove (both 1-0 against the Lady Tigers), Dardanelle (CAC beat the Lady Lizards) and Joe T. Robinson (CAC has won three against the Lady Senators; Berryville beat them in the opening round of the state tournament, 4-2).
Also in the state tournament last week, Berryville beat Stuttgart in the quarterfinals, 7-1; and Brookland in the semis, 5-0.
The Lady Mustangs (18-0 overall after a 13-0 run through the 4A-2) are going for their third consecutive state title. They trail only Class 7A Bentonville in all-time championships. The Lady Tigers won their eighth last season. The Lady Mustangs were state champs in 2006, ‘07, ‘08, ‘12, ‘13, ‘16 and ‘17; state. runner-up in 2009 and ‘15 and semifinalists in 2010, ‘11 and ‘14.
“We are obviously pleased to be in our fourth straight final,” Lambert said.
CAC, the top seed from the 4A-2, beat Prairie Grove, 6-0, in the opening round of the state tournament at Batesville last week; Episcopal Collegiate in the quarterfinals, 7-0; and Dardanelle in the semifinals, 5-2.
“We had relatively few surprises in the first three games,” Lambert said. “We thought the teams from the West would be strong, and that was the case. We played Prairie Grove at the city park, and the field was relatively small. They defended well and had probably the best defender and keeper we have seen all season.”
Lambert said although the Lady Mustangs led by just 1-0 at the half, they had the ball most of the time.
“We ended up with five pretty quick goals in the second half but took too many shots to get there,” he said. “Our final shot count was 35.”
He said the win over Episcopal was one of his team’s best games of the season.
“I think we scored six goals within the first 20 to 25 minutes and were able to rest most of our starters the remainder of the game,” he said. “In a three-game tournament, that is significant.”
Dardanelle was the top seed from the West. Lambert said the Lady Lizards were well coached and never gave up.
“I think we matched their energy early but were slow to settle into our game,” he said. “Although we scored four goals in the first half, (the Lady Lizards) were always dangerous, so we were never really comfortable. Their best player was excellent and really tested our defense. We missed some easy chances to put the game away in the first half.”
He said Dardanelle came out strongly after halftime.
“We sat back a bit for the first 10 minutes of the second half and we gave up two corners early that they converted,” he said. “That energized them and their fans. That got our attention. Our fifth goal with about 20 minutes to go settled everyone down, and we finished the game out fairly comfortably. We finished with 28 shots. We know we need to be more clinical with our finishing in the final.
The Lady Mustangs head into the title game undefeated by a combined 128-4.
“This group is a joy to coach,” Lambert said. “All of our players did very well. We are very team-oriented, so we aren’t dependent on one player. When a team focused on one player, someone else stepped up. Our keeper, Madyson Bowman, made some excellent stops in the semifinal. She rarely touches the ball, so people don’t know how good she is.”