While it's natural for the hearts of Greenwood fans to beat a little faster this time of year in anticipation of another championship run on the gridiron by their beloved Bulldogs, several other GHS sports teams are prepping for their seasons as well.
Some will play this fall, while others are just starting pre-season drills to compete during the spring semester. The following is a brief update on these other sports, excluding basketball and wrestling, which are considered to be winter sports, although basketball is pretty much a year-long activity.
Head Coach Jim Andrews and his runners have been working hard for months in preparation for the upcoming fall season. "We've had a really good summer preseason," said Andrews.
"In June we had thirty-seven 7th-12th graders participate in a three day run camp. The junior high [kids] went to local trails and locations to run. The high school students went to Devils Den [State Park], where they ran the trail systems and stayed overnight for three days.
"The teams have really put in some good work this year," said the coach. "They've ran hard at practice whether at Bell Park or Vache Grasse. Looking [ahead], I believe we will be improved in each team. We have a good group of seventh graders coming in, and I feel the junior [high] boys and girls will be better.
"The [ninth grade] boys team will be young with only two [true] ninth graders on the team, Vincent Gonzales and Case Owenby," said Andrews. "The [ninth grade] girls will be led by Taylor Koeth, Maggie Rozzell, and Rebecca Martinez.
"Both of the senior high teams are also looking to improve over last season," he continued. "The [Lady Bulldogs] will be made up of five seniors, one junior, and two sophomores, led by Mackenzie Wheeler, Amber Crook and Ashton Stewart.
"Rounding out the team is Madison Looper, Vernoica Schumacher, Leeann Sappington, Sam Duque, and Aubrey Barnes. All [of them] have had a good summer, and are looking to help lead the girls to a better finish at conference and state," said Andrews.
"The senior high boys are led by juniors Joseph Wittig, Zach Looper, and Nathan Gonzales. But this team is so strong with great seniors in James Yeager and Eli Scott. Other runners that will help the team include Jarrod Maxon, Brandon Riesburg, Luke Travis, Parker Pitts, Noah Rogers, Ryan Farr, and James Christian. It's going to be another exciting year," said Andrews.
Greenwood's season slate begins on Thursday, September 1st, at Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The only home meet among the scheduled 10 regular season events with be the Greenwood Invitational on Saturday, October 8th.
The Lady Bulldogs won the 6A state title in 2015, but fell short of defending their crown last spring, losing to Sheridan, the eventual state champs, in the semi-finals. Greenwood has since lost superlative starting pitcher Victoria Taylor to graduation and college, but the GHS girls remain strong contenders on the state level in Class 6A.
"With losing five starters from last year's team, all of whom played a lot of games for us the past three years, it will be tough to replace them," said Lady Bulldogs' Head Coach Ronnie Sockey. "But we have a large senior class that's had a very good record in junior varsity games the past two seasons, that will be ready to step right in next [spring].
"We return three year starter in [catcher] Sydney Parker, and have junior Kaila Cartwright ready to take over the starting pitching [duties] for the team," said the coach. Other experienced players returning next spring include sophomore Mariah Hamilton, junior Alexis Castillow, and seniors Darian Wilson and Hannah Booker.
According to Sockey, softball tryouts will be held the last week in August for all potential players, then fall practice sessions will be held in September and October. Winter workouts start in January to be ready for the spring season.
Head Coach Ken Hamilton has high expectations for his 2016 netters. "I'll be very disappointed if we don't compete for the district championship," he said. Hamilton has several experienced players returning this fall on both the girls and boys squads.
The Bulldogs will be led by a pair of three-year lettermen in Andrew Anderson and Paxton Evans. Anderson earned all-state honors as a freshman. The two seniors play singles and as doubles partners.
Woody Woodring is a junior and "should be an all-stater this year," said his coach. Other potential contributors this fall include "improved" sophomore Kenny Sweeney, and a pair of seniors, Johnny Thammarath and Carson Loyd.
For the Lady Bulldogs, senior Maria Geoly returns to lead the squad. "She is a veteran and a potential all-stater," said her coach. Geoly has already received a scholarship offer to play tennis at Hendrix College in Conway.
"Junior Lindsay Gills is a two-year letterman and hits the ball as well as anybody I've ever had," said Hamilton. Seniors Kristen Keene and Hailey Rice formed an experienced doubles team and should be improved this season.
Coach Hamilton added, "We have some promising freshman and a couple of exchange students I haven't seen yet, but I never get my hopes up until I see them hit a tennis ball."
Both squads have been practicing over the summer and several players have participated in tournaments. "Our serious players [compete] in tournaments all summer long," said the coach. "If you don't play during the summer, you have a tough time competing at the state level."
Hamilton has been working his players some in the afternoons to get them acclimated to the summer heat, because that's when they play their matches, typically from 3:30 to 6 p.m. after school in August and September. They've also done morning workouts.
But while the GHS coach is upbeat about his teams, he is less than enthusiastic about conference realignment and the schedule. "The conference is so crazy. It's a real hassel," he said.
Greenwood will be playing in the newly created 6A West against El Dorado, Benton, Sheridan, Lake Hamilton, and Texarkana, along with more familiar foes in Siloam Springs and Russellville. To ease travel concerns, several matches will be held at a neutral site in Russellville.
The GHS netters begin their regular season with a non-conference match at Van Buren next Tuesday, August 16th, followed by another road match at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville against Pulaski Academy next Thursday. Greenwood's first home match will be on Tuesday the 23rd against Fort Smith Northside at 3:30 p.m.
According to GHS head baseball coach Trey Holloway, the pressure to perform just comes with the uniform, if it belongs to a Greenwood Bulldog. "We will have high expectations every year at Greenwood High School," he said. "All you have to do is look at our outfield fence and see all the years we have won conference and state championships to know that expectations are high here."
"We have a strong core of players coming back, and I'm excited to get started the first day of school," said the coach. "We have around 20 baseball-only players, so our program is run like a college program. We have two weeks of strength and conditioning. We do two 6:00 a.m. workouts throughout the fall, and our crawling routine on Friday mornings help build mental toughness.
"Then we will get into our baseball instructional time where we break down and work on fundamentals. Around November we start our throwing program, and I'm excited to start a new velocity program this year. I think [it] will help our players gain throwing and pitching velocity. Then we will get into full swing after the state championship football game.
Holloway has several key players returning, including one of the top pitching prospects in the nation in junior starter Connor Noland, who has already verbally committed to play both baseball and football for the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Noland, a right-hander with a 90 MPH fastball, is considered to be among the top college and professional prospects in the state, and barring injury, will no doubt also be picked in the 2018 Major League draft. Other returning players with experience include Michael Panis, Ryan Reeves, Cody Smith, Weston Sagely, and Cooper Van Kooten.
"Our goal this year, like every year, is to 'Finish Empty'," said Holloway. "We are proud to be a #FinishEmpty team. It was founded by Jason Curry, a pastor at The Church at Rock Creek in Little Rock.
"Finish Empty is simple to understand, but takes everything you have to live out," said the coach. "It’s pouring out all you've got, every moment, every day. That’s easy on game day, but that’s not where champions are built. Finish Empty is the passion to work, with all your heart, when no one is watching, to achieve your dreams. Finish Empty is more than a phrase...it is a calling, mission, and vision."
"We all are given talent, and no matter what we do, there is a dream in our heart to chase. That path is never easy, but it’s worth it. That's what Finish Empty is all about. That's what we try to do with our baseball players at Greenwood – develop these young men into great fathers and husband. And if we can teach them a little bit about baseball, then that is icing on the cake."
The Lady Bulldogs have already won one state championship under Head Coach Jennifer Golden, and have been in contention for several others, and that pattern won't change in 2016. Workouts and camps have been underway throughout the summer and the regular season opener is just around the corner.
Four days after school opens next week, the GHS girls will travel north to Rogers for a benefit match to kick off their fall campaign, with the official season opener the following Monday the 22nd at Fayetteville. Their first home match will be next Tuesday afternoon against Rogers Heritage.
"We've been practicing every day," said Golden, who likes what she's seen so far. " We went to team camp at Missouri State in July and ended up second overall. We had a really good camp." The Lady Bulldogs also hosted a junior and senior high camp last week and played very well.
"We're rolling right along," said the coach. "We are very strong on the back row with our defense, and that just feeds right into our offense. I've had some kids step in real nice. It's all coming together. I'm pleasantly pleased. You don't [normally] want to play as well as we are this early, but there's always room for improvement."
The Lady Bulldogs have three returning seniors including Maddi Pfeifer, Hannah Johnson, and Makenzie Presley. "They're going to be big leaders on the court," said Golden of her senior trio. The team will also benefit from a large crop of juniors who saw a lot of playing time on the JV team as sophomores.
Golden also explained the changes in the conference alignment this year, which seem quite advantageous to the Lady Bulldogs after playing the past few seasons in the rugged 7A/6A Central. In volleyball, the Arkansas Activities Association has paired 5A and 6A teams together for the first time.
Greenwood will play against league foes Russellville, Siloam Springs, Alma, Clarksville, Harrison, and Farmington – a seven-team conference. "What changes for us is that we now have to play a conference tournament before going to state," said the coach.