The new school year began this week and several Greenwood High School athletic teams are already preparing for their respective seasons, including three squads that will be defending state titles won last year.
The Lady Bulldogs' golf and volleyball teams, along with the football Bulldogs, all reached the mountaintop last fall, claiming state championships in Class 6A. All three teams have strong cores returning and are expected to once again compete for conference titles and make deep runs in the post-season.
The cross country teams and the boys' golf team also had good seasons, with the GHS boys finishing second in the state golf tournament. The tennis teams were rebuilding last season, but still have one of the top female players in the state returning for her junior year this fall.
Head Coach Rick Jones is entering his 15th season at the helm of one the most successful high school gridiron programs in Arkansas over the last 25 years. The 'Dogs have reached the state finals 10 times under Jones, winning the crown seven times (2005-07, 2010-12, 2017). Preseason practice began this past Monday.
Greenwood is a remarkable 163-23 during Jones' tenure and has posted a record of 37-2 over the past three years, including 13-0 last season, climaxed by a rousing 52-14 win over Pine Bluff in the title game.
Chief concerns this fall include replacing the entire offensive backfield with the graduation of all-state players Connor Noland (QB) and Kenny Wood (RB). The two were among several Bulldogs who signed college scholarships, with Noland hoping to see playing time for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.
Three players have been mentioned to replace Noland, including senior Peyton Holt, junior Jace Presley, and sophomore Landry Jurecka. Holt was the team's top receiver and playmaker last season, while Presley took most of the snaps with the junior varsity squad last fall.
Jurecka has a strong arm, but is new to the offensive system, sitting out last season with an injury after transferring from Alma. Preseason practice will determine which player gets the starting nod.
Senior backup Marc Jones returns at running back, with promising sophomores Hunter Wilkinson and Caden Franks expected to see a lot of playing time. Returning senior Josh Barlow was being looked to as one of the team's top receivers, but suffered a season-ending injury last week. If Holt moves to quarterback, other players must step up at receiver.
Greenwood also has three returning starters on the offensive line – seniors Noah Fox, Colton Simpson, and Cole Ceniceros. Returning kicker Grant Ennis is already getting inquiries from college recruiters.
The 2017 defense was perhaps the best in school history, and several key players have graduated, most notably senior noseguard Jon Womack, who also signed to play college ball. But five starters return and several talented replacements just need playing time and experience at the varsity level.
Defensive leaders include Trey Woods and Aaron Ohl in the secondary, Travis Cox at linebacker, with Josh Maze and Morgan Hanna on the defensive line. Others include seniors Sam Sandifer and Coleton Erwin.
Hooten's Arkansas Football magazine picks Greenwood to win the 6A West conference title and ranks them second in Class 6A overall behind Pine Bluff. The season begins August 31st at Fort Smith Northside.
Head Coach Jim Andrews lost two of the state's best in graduated seniors Joseph Wittig and Zack Looper, but does have one of the top female runners in Class 6A in returning junior Taylor Koeth. Wittig and Looper led their team to a third place finish in the state meet last fall, while the GHS girls placed sixth overall.
“We had a great season,” said Andrews, who also coaches the junior high team. “We had a much-improved junior boys’ team and the junior girls got better throughout the [year]. Both teams were young and will have many returning runners that will continue to make [us] better.”
The 2017 Greenwood junior high boys' team won the River Valley Conference championship, and some of those runners will need to continue improving as they move up to the varsity level over the next few years.
Of his varsity girls, Andrews said last fall, “We still have a really young team. Our top two, Taylor Koeth and Macie Cash, are just a sophomore and freshman. We also have two other good sophomores in Maggie Rozell and Scotlyn Wells.”
Andrews and his runners open their season at Tahlequah, Oklahoma, on August 30th. They will also run at Memphis, TN, Fort Smith, Van Buren, Siloam Springs, Fayetteville, and Mansfield before the state meet in Hot Springs at Oaklawn Park on November 2nd.
After contemplating retirement, Head Coach Ronnie Williams returns for one final season after his GHS girls won the 6A state title last fall and the Greenwood boys finished second. He is assisted by Ronnie Sockey.
Seniors Sydnie Gamble and Nathan Munday both signed to play golf for the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, and both were instrumental in Greenwood's strong finish in 2017.
Gamble earned state medalist honors in leading the Lady Bulldogs to the state title, along with teammates Jordyn Lane and Ella Austin, both of whom return for their junior seasons in 2018.
Senior Jaelee Mohetau is also back this season after playing in the state tournament. Along with Lane and Austin, they will be joined by several newcomers this fall.
Likewise, the cupboard remains well stocked on the boys' side with returning senior Evan Griffith, who led the Greenwood charge at state, along with experienced returnees Bradley Brotherton, Landon Tuck, and Brady Fein, plus several newcomers.
The GHS linksters opened their season earlier this week with a tournament at Mountain Home. Their first home match will be next Tuesday at Vache Grasse Country Club against Springdale Har-Ber.
The Greenwood community tennis courts located next to the girls' softball field are currently being renovated and should be ready for play soon, said GHS Head Coach Ken Hamilton. The project was originally slated for last spring, but was postponed several times. Weather issues and an unexpected drainage problem have also delayed the completion of the work.
In the meantime, the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs have been practicing in Fort Smith, preparing for their upcoming season, their second since the GHS boys won the state title in 2016 and the girls finished third.
The Lady Bulldogs graduated senior Lindsay Gills, who has now moved on to play for Ouachita Baptist University, but still have a thoroughbred in the stable with returning junior Olivia Gaston, who reached the finals of the state tournament last October.
“She loves [tennis], she’s a fantastic competitor, and she keeps the ball in play,” said Hamilton last fall of his top girls' player. “She’s a real pleasure to coach and a real pleasure to watch,” he added. “She’s going to be better the next two years. If she continues to get stronger and quicker, she will win a championship or [two] before she graduates.”
Teammates Amber Alzufari, Katelyn Bailey, Abigail Woodring, and Madie Pelt also have state tournament experience and return along with Gaston, plus some young newcomers.
On the boys' side of the net, senior Kenny Sweeney is the top singles player for the Bulldogs. Doubles partners Austin Shown and Eli Butler also return after competing at state last fall, joined by some new faces for Coach Hamilton.
The season's opening match will be next Monday against Beebe and Little Rock Christian, with the Arkansas Tech University serving as the host. Greenwood will travel to Rogers next Tuesday for a head-to-head match against Heritage High School.
The Lady Bulldogs won the 6A state title last season, their second in school history, and Head Coach Jennifer Golden feels really good about what she has coming back this season.
Despite losing a wealth of talent and experience with the graduation of nine seniors, the GHS girls will still contend for the conference and state titles in 2018. They have good size along the front line and enough returning experience to be a threat to rival powers Siloam Springs, Russellville, and Jonesboro.
For a more thorough examination of GHS volleyball prospects this season, see the accompanying article on this website.