GHS boys battle their way into soccer playoffs; Lady Bulldogs close out their regular season

GHS boys battle their way into soccer playoffs; Lady Bulldogs close out their regular season

(This article has been recently updated)

It’s taken a while, but Coach Tyler Woods and his 2024 Bulldogs have finally earned the right to play in the 5A state soccer tournament on Thursday at Hot Springs Lakeside High School. The GHS head coach was hired to replace Lukas Shoemaker, who took the 2018 Bulldogs to the state quarterfinals, despite posting a 5-18 overall record. But Shoemaker left the Bulldogs after one year to return to Siloam Springs as head coach of the Panthers before getting into administration.

Woods moved here from Beebe and had a successful season in 2019, going 10-10 overall but missed the playoffs, finishing fifth with a 7-7 conference mark. Then the Covid pandemic wiped out the 2020 season and proved to be a setback for all high school spring sports across the country. The Bulldogs were 9-8-1 in 2021 but again failed to make the state tournament, finishing fifth in what many observers believe is the best soccer league in the state, led by multiple state title winners Russellville and Siloam Springs. In 2022 the GHS boys were 6-8-6 overall and 5-5-4 in league play, then went 10-8-2 overall last season with a 6-7-1 conference mark, just missing the playoffs again both years.

So, Woods and his Bulldogs were finally rewarded for their hard work and perseverance last week with a win over Greenbrier that earned them the state tournament berth they have missed out on the previous five seasons. They could have gone to the tournament had they tied the Panthers, but the victory was sweetened by the fact that Greenbrier defeated the Bulldogs in their season finale last year and kept Greenwood from making the playoffs, so the ‘Dogs returned the favor.

Starting with their match at home against Harrison on April 19th, the Bulldogs won three of their last five contests and tied another to put themselves in position to make the tournament field. The tie came against the Goblins, a 1-1 affair that earned Greenwood one point in the conference standings. They lost a close match to Siloam Springs, 1-0, then defeated Mountain Home 2-1 to earn three points in the league rankings. A 6-1 victory at Alma followed before the showdown with the Panthers, a 1-0 GHS victory to clinch their postseason berth. The Bulldogs finished the regular season with a 10-7-3 record.

According to the GHS head coach, at various times during the season three or four teams were competing for the fourth and final playoff slot in the 5A West, with Russellville (14-0), Van Buren (11-3), and Siloam Springs (11-3) all at the top. Greenwood, Mountain Home, Greenbrier, and Harrison were all in the race at one point before Harrison fell by the wayside, leaving the other three schools in a battle that went down to the last few games of the season.

Mountain Home tanked by losing four straight conference matches, while Greenbrier emerged from a four-game losing streak to win three of five just like Greenwood, but the Panthers lost twice while the Bulldogs were able to tie one match, giving them the edge going into their final game. Ultimately, Greenwood finished with a 5-6-3 league mark and 18 points compared to Greenbrier at 4-8-2 and 14 points. Mountain Home also finished at 4-8-2 in conference.

Against Harrison, Greenwood got down 1-0 in the first half, but rallied to tie the match at 1-1 on a goal by sophomore Christian Campbell off an assist by junior David Coggin. It was Campbell’s only goal of the season, and it was huge, tying the score and helping the Bulldogs pick up a point in the league standings. “It was a big tie,” said Coach Woods. “We needed that point. It kept us in [the playoff race.]”

Up next was a 1-0 loss at Siloam Springs, one of the premier teams in the 5A West and the state of Arkansas. “We gave up a goal about 20 minutes [into the match],” said Woods. “But our guys played hard. We had a lot of chances and we scared [the Panthers] half to death. It was one of our hardest-fought games of the [season].”

Then the unexpected happened before Greenwood’s home match against Mountain Home on Thursday the 25th. Coach Woods fell ill with Covid and could not be around the team, so he was replaced by Athletic Director and former GHS soccer coach Chris Young, who understood what was at stake for the Bulldogs, inspiring the troop to pull off a 2-1 victory. Since taking over the GHS gridiron program, Coach Young has taken his teams to four consecutive finals, winning two state titles.

“Coach Young got them fired up and got them playing hard,” said Woods. “He did a great job, and my assistant coach, Ryan Lensing, did a great job [making substitutions]. I was watching at home on TV, and they got down early on a free kick. But we tied it up before halftime.” That tying goal was scored by junior Hudson Meeker with an assist from senior Bodey Steinfeldt.

“The second half was just a battle,” said Woods before describing another shot on goal by Meeker that was blocked by the goalkeeper, but the ball bounced right into the path of Steinfeldt, who was trailing the play, and scored what turned out to be the game winning point. “That was a huge three points. We had to have that,” said Coach Woods, referring to the conference point standings. “They were starting to figure some things out in the second half of the round robin [schedule],” said Woods. “They were [playing] much better as the season went along.”

On the last day of April, the Bulldogs went to Alma and exploded offensively for a dominant 6-1 victory. “Our guys played really hard,” said the coach. The game’s first goal came off the foot of junior Corbin Lamb, followed by a pair of goals by Hudson Meeker, all three of which were aided by Tucker Wooten. Fellow senior Peyton Presson added a fourth unassisted goal, and the score was 4-1 at halftime.

Freshman Landon Franklin scored Greenwood’s fifth goal and freshman Reid Pittman added his first goal of the season to make the final 6-1. Sophomore Davin Cheek got the assist on the Pittman goal. “It was good for our confidence,” said Woods. “That game set us up to make the playoffs against Greenbrier last Friday night.

“That was senior night, and it was the largest crowd I think I’ve ever seen at a high school soccer match for this classification,” said the coach. “Coach Young allowed the student body to attend the match for free and the booster club bought 20 pizzas from Geno’s and fed them. We had a bunch of teachers there and a bunch of parents for senior night. We even had some youth players there and they made a tunnel so our boys could run out on the field. Our guys were really pumped, and they fed off [the enthusiasm], seeing all their friends supporting them.

“Hudson Meeker got an early goal, probably in the 12th or 13th minute of the [match],” explained Woods. “We could have gotten in [the playoffs] with a tie, but I think that goal helped our guys to loosen up. I know I did. I started breathing a little bit after that first goal. I couldn’t breathe for the three days before it. But we didn’t just sit back. We had a couple more chances to score. But we played smart.

“One guy that I was super proud of was Carson Hobbs, who came back from injury, as he said he would,” the coach revealed. Hobbs broke a leg at the start of the season and required surgery, but vowed to come back for the Greenbrier match, and he did, despite still having a limp. “No one really believed him,” admitted Woods.

“I didn’t want to play him on defense, even though he was a good defender,” explained the coach, who put the determined senior in at outside midfielder, a position Hobbs had never played. “But he looked like he’d played the position all his life. He played with so much heart and grit. He’s a tough player and he helped us secure that win. It was special.” Making it even more special were the students who rushed the field after the final whistle to celebrate with the Bulldogs.

“We’re not used to making the playoffs every year,” admitted Woods. “We haven’t made it since I’ve been here, and this is my sixth season. They threw some ice water on me and that felt great. It was a surreal moment, and I was speechless for a little bit. We ended up going to Buffalo Wild Wings to celebrate with everybody.”

The Bulldogs will now try to prove they belong in the playoffs against one of the better teams in the state, the Lakeside Rams, who went unbeaten (15-0-1) in the 5A South this season, 17-1-1 overall. “They are one of the host [teams],” said the coach. The noon match on Thursday will be live streamed on the Rams YouTube channel. “They’re a good team, maybe slightly better than Van Buren or even Siloam Springs in our conference. They’re a technical team with a lot of speed and they have one player who is really fast and can finish really well. But we’ll give them our best shot. We’re not going to flinch. We’ll stand toe to toe with them. We’re used to playing really tough competition. I told our guys that we are the toughest four seed in the bracket, and I think Lakeside has to be taking us very seriously. We’re encouraged and excited.”

Woods did express some concern about the midday heat on Thursday, with the temperature expected to be well into the 80s. “But our guys just have to be prepared to play hard. We just need to play our best and I will be proud no matter what,” said the coach. “The difference in the playoffs is not always who has the best starting lineup. The best teams that make a deep run [in the playoffs] also have quality subs, especially when it’s hot.” (See playoff update at the end of this article)

Lady Bulldogs

The 2023 GHS varsity girls made the playoffs last season but were not able to duplicate that feat this spring, finishing sixth in the conference standings for Head Coach Andrew Post. The Lady Bulldogs were in the hunt for another state tournament berth until dropping three straight to Harrison, Siloam Springs, and Mountain Home before closing out the month of April with a win at Alma. Had Greenwood beaten Greenbrier last week there would have been a three-way tie at 6-8, including Mountain Home, and the tournament berth would have been determined by a tiebreaking procedure. But Greenwood lost to the Lady Panthers, 1-0, giving the final playoff slot to Greenbrier.

Against Harrison on Friday, April 19th, the Lady Bulldogs lost to the visiting Lady Goblins in a close match, 3-2, with senior Abbey Gatesman scoring both of Greenwood’s goals. Four days later on Tuesday the 23rd the GHS ladies traveled to Siloam Springs, losing decisively to the unbeaten Lady Panthers, who finished the season at 14-0 in league play. Mariah Bartok scored the lone goal for Greenwood in the 7-1 loss.

Three days later, on Friday the 26th of April, the Lady Bulldogs lost another close one to Mountain Home, falling 2-1, with Abbey Gatesman scoring the only goal for Greenwood in a very costly home loss at Smith-Robinson Stadium. The GHS girls played well in their final road match at Alma, winning 3-0 on goals by Ally Thomas (2) and Gatesman. Greenwood lost 1-0 to Greenbrier last Friday to end their season with a 6-9 overall mark.

“Our season ended with a loss to Greenbrier this past Friday,” said Coach Post in wrapping up their season. “While we were in contention for a playoff spot until the last game, we couldn't pull off enough wins to put us back in the [postseason]. But I was proud of the way our girls fought this [spring], keeping us in the running all season long. Of course, missing the playoffs is disappointing. We returned the bulk of our starters from last season but weren’t able to capitalize on that experience.

“We will graduate 10 seniors this year,” added the coach. “They will be missed, and their contributions to the team will be tough to replace. But we still return most of our starters, which will give us something to build on for next season. I am proud of these young ladies. They fought hard and gave us a good chance to make the playoffs. We will miss our seniors, a few of which have been in the program since their freshman year. We wish them the best in the next chapter of their [life’s] journey.

Hot Springs Lakeside 3, Greenwood 0

The Bulldogs battled and played their hearts out against Lakeside, but the Rams were just too much, beating the Greenwood boys 3-0 in the opening round of the playoffs. Lakeside then lost 1-0 in the second round to Pulaski Academy, which in turn lost to Russellville, 2-0. Like the Bulldogs, the Cyclones came from the 5A West as the #1 seed. Russellville went on to battle Van Buren in the finals, the #2 seed from the West, winning in a landslide, 11-1, to claim yet another state title.

Head Coach Tyler Woods posted these words on his Facebook page after the loss. “The 2024 soccer season has come to an end! [But we are] thankful for a successful season, the community support, and the memories that were made along the way.” He also praised his senior class for their contributions over the last four years.

“What a special year with some special seniors!” he said. “It has been a lot of fun! I'm very proud of this group. They are the first group I've had here at Greenwood to get in the top four of this tough conference and go to playoffs. They laid a great foundation for years to come!” The GHS roster has seven seniors listed, and several of them earned postseason honors.

Goalkeeper Brandon Coston was named All-State for his efforts this season. Senior Bodey Steinfeldt was named to the 5A All-tournament team. Tucker Wooten earned 5A West All-conference recognition, as did fellow senior Alex Pittman. The team’s other seniors included Carson Hobbs, Peyton Presson, and Kaleb Marsico. A pair of juniors, Hudson Meeker and David Coggin, were also named All-conference and will return next season to hopefully spearhead another run to the playoffs.

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