Tyler Woods is now in his second year as head coach of the Bulldogs’ soccer team, and he has his hands full trying to replace nearly his entire starting lineup from last season.
The ‘Dogs barely missed the playoffs in 2019, losing the last and deciding match of the season at Greenbrier in a protracted shootout with the Panthers. Greenwood finished the year at 10-10 overall.
“We’ve got 29 [kids] right now, a little less than last year,” said Woods during a recent interview.
“We lost 11 seniors, and nine of those were starters,” he continued. “That hurt us a lot, but we’ve got four new additions, and they’re going to help a lot. Three are foreign exchange kids and one kid moved away and played at Vilonia and has moved back for his senior year.
“We’ve [also] got three seniors, [but] we’re pretty young. Our defense is young. We lost all four of our starting defenders, which is going to be tough. It’s probably our biggest task this year. We’ve got three juniors and a sophomore on our back line,” added Woods.
The three seniors include Jackson Stewart, Landon Henning, and Aaron Waldron, who transferred back from Vilonia. “He’s a really fast kid and we’re glad to have him come back to Greenwood,” said the coach.
“Jackson Stewart is our goalie. He played on defense last year [because] we had a really good keeper in front of him. But he’s good. He’s played keeper all his life.
“We return Landon Henning, another senior who started last year. He accounted for 22 of our 36 goals last year in regulation play. He assisted in 12 and scored 10 himself. So it’s big having him back,” said Woods. “He’ll play forward and center midfield for us.
The coach also mentioned that Henning scored a perfect 36 on his ACT exam, and Jackson Stewart scored a 33, calling their scores very impressive. “We’ve got some smart kids on our team,” he added.
“The three foreign kids are going to help us,” he continued. “We’ve got two from Italy – Alessandro Moggio – he’ll play some forward for us. Then there are two midfielders, Matteo Cacciamani (Italy), and Lenus Jahn from Germany. We’re thankful to have those guys.” All three players are juniors.
“We also have Riley Wann who played a lot of varsity minutes for us last year. He will play midfield for us and he’s a junior.
“Three of our defenders this year will be juniors – Devan Lamb and Jonathan Lamb, who I think are cousins, and Travis Johns. All three are varsity players who got spot play last year,” said Woods.
I’m excited about our nucleus of varsity players. Our first 11 are really strong, [but] we don’t have a ton of depth.” The coach then turned his attention to the underclassmen.
“We’ll also have a couple sophomores who contribute,” Woods said. “Micah Lensing played mostly JV last year, but he’ll help us out. Marco Dominguez will help maybe in the mid-field somewhere. Ben Moy is a sophomore filling the centerback role right now.
“We’ve got two sophomores training to be keepers, Hunter Kirkes and Deacon Drennan. They’ve been putting in a whole lot of extra time on their own to try to get better.
“Even though we lost nine starters and 11 seniors, every team goes through that at some point. We’ve just got to find a way to keep building and developing our younger guys. We have a good group of freshmen,” said Woods.
“We’ve got 10 freshmen right now who have all played and have a soccer background. They are fundamentally sound. There are five, six, or seven of them that will end up being pretty good.
“Four of them have made varsity – Evan Walker, Steven Duran, Ralph Meeker, and Ben Pschier. There are a couple others who are borderline varsity/JV who may earn a jersey during the season,” said the coach.
“I’m excited about our junior varsity. I’m excited to see these guys develop and get better, because they’re going to have to play as sophomores. Those freshmen better get ready,” he added.
The second-year GHS coach admitted that it’s tough competing with so many other sports for available athletes. Very few of his players take part in other sports on campus.
“We don’t have a whole lot of multi-sport athletes. It’s hard to get these kids who are better athletes to be interested in soccer and just try it out. [But] if we can keep 10 solid kids coming out each year we’ll be in good shape,” said Woods.
Some Greenwood athletes have played club soccer in Fort Smith in the past and the local Boys and Girls Club has elementary level soccer in the spring and fall.
“Those teams who are good or winning state championships, those kids are playing the game all the time somewhere, somehow,” admitted the coach, who has plans for future camps to stimulate interest in local soccer.
But one idea that’s generated interest and shown success over the last year is to open the GMAC indoor facility on campus once a week or once a month for soccer night.
“We have open GMAC nights. Everyone that shows up plays inside the GMAC, like a pickup basketball game, and I’ve had really good turnouts. Alumni come and some nights we’d have 50 guys, and I loved it,” said Woods. “If anybody is interested, contact me at email@example.com.”
As for the conference race, the outlook is much the same as in girls’ play with Russellville, Siloam Springs, and LR Christian all battling for the top three spots. The GHS boys were 7-7 in league play in 2019.
“We almost felt like everybody else was fighting for fourth place,” said Woods of last year’s 5A West race. “I think this year we will be able to compete with the top three. Our kids know they can play with anybody in our classification.”
Summing up, Woods added, “You just never really know until the season starts. Hopefully we can avoid injuries. We could end up being pretty good or pretty bad. It could go either way,” he admitted.
Coach Woods is assisted by Ryan Lensing, who played soccer as a student at Greenwood, but Lensing also serves as an assistant to Clay Reeves and the Lady Bulldogs. As such, he won’t be available until after the state championship game on Saturday.