GHS girls’ soccer hopes to repeat 2023 success

GHS girls’ soccer hopes to repeat 2023 success

Head Coach Andrew Post and his Lady Bulldogs’ soccer team opened their 2024 season recently with matches against Heavener, Oklahoma, and Bentonville West, and they are hoping to build on their success from last season. In 2023 the GHS girls earned a playoff berth as the fourth seed from the 5A West, losing in the first round of the postseason state tournament. It was the first time since 2018 the Lady Bulldogs had qualified for the playoffs. The 2023 squad finished with a winning record of 10-7-1 and were 7-6-1 in conference play. Greenwood lost to tournament host Valley View in the opening round of the playoffs, 5-1.

“We played a very good [opening] half, scoring first with about 10 minutes left in the half,” said Coach Post last May. “Unfortunately, we gave up a goal [late] in the half.” Greenwood’s lone goal was scored by GHS freshman Mariah Bartok, who will be a key returning player in 2024. The match was tied at 1-1 at the intermission, but the second 40 minutes belonged to Valley View, playing on their home field.

“The second half we didn't match our first half effort and gave up four goals,” said the coach. “The girls played hard against a very good Valley View team. We certainly gave them a scare, and I believe we were the best #4 seed in the tournament. It was a great season for these ladies, certainly one of the most memorable seasons in recent [history].”

Obviously, the returning players and their head coach hope to capitalize on that success in the tough 5A West conference in 2024, and they have a wealth of experienced players coming back, including nine seniors and nine juniors who tasted that success last season. The roster is rounded out by five sophomores and a large class of 10 freshmen.

One of those seniors and two juniors accounted for all the scoring in Greenwood’s 5-0 win over Heavener on Monday, February 26th. Senior Abby Gatesman netted two goals and junior Ally Thomas did the same with fellow junior Hailey Mabry adding another goal. But the tide turned in their match with Class 6A Bentonville West this past Monday night.

The Lady Wolverines won the match 5-0, scoring three first half goals and two after the break. While it was only the second match of the season for the Lady Bulldogs, it was the sixth outing for the Bentonville West girls, including former Lady Bulldog Skyler Frey who transferred from Greenwood to Bentonville for the 2024 campaign. “It was not the outcome we hoped for, but these ladies still rocked it,” said a recent post on the team’s Facebook page.

Heavener and Bentonville-West are the only two non-conference matches on the schedule for the Lady Bulldogs, who will open 5A West conference play at Russellville on Thursday this week. They will host Van Buren next Tuesday at Smith-Robinson Stadium before traveling to Harrison next Thursday, March 14th. The Lady Goblins reached the state finals last season before losing to 2023 state champion Pulaski Academy. Harrison, Russellville, Siloam Springs, and Greenwood are the four teams from the 5A West to reach the playoffs last season.

“That was our best record since 2018,” said Coach Post of last season’s 10-7-1 mark. “That was the season we went to the [state] quarterfinals.” Both the GHS girls and boys have struggled to get back to the playoffs since then in what many observers feel is the state’s toughest soccer conference, regardless of classification. Three schools in the eight-team league have exceptional girls’ soccer programs and usually finish 1-2-3 in the standings every spring, and there are only four playoff slots available. That usually leaves five teams, including Greenwood, hoping to earn the #4 spot in the conference standings and a berth in the postseason tournament.

Asked about his 2024 roster and the small size of the sophomore class, Coach Post said, “It was a smaller freshmen class last year, but I had three who [played] significant minutes throughout the season.” Unfortunately, one of those three freshmen, Skyler Frey, a starter, has moved and transferred to Bentonville West since last spring, but he retained the other two who were among his top scorers last season.

“So, we’re a little light on the sophomores, and when they become seniors [in 2026], we’ll have a small senior class. But we have a lot of freshmen this year. It’s cyclical from year to year. This year we just had a larger group of girls that were interested in soccer. The youth program has helped us,” he said, referring to the independent Greenwood team coached by Chris Simpson that plays against teams from other neighboring towns. Neither Coach Post nor Greenwood High School are officially associated with the league, though Coach Simpson’s daughter, Kaya, is a Lady Bulldog.

The GHS head coach next talked about several of his seniors, who will form the backbone of his 2024 squad. The nine seniors on the roster include Lindah Bartok, Gracyn Newcity, Abby Gatesman, Elayna Post, Reagan Zimmerman, Brooklyn Garza, Carsyn Holland, Salem Colburn, and Hannah Caldwell, and most of them will play a significant role on the team in 2024.

“I’ve got some seniors who have played for me for a while,” said the coach. “Lindah Bartok was our goalkeeper and she joined us as a sophomore. She played on defense as a sophomore and then as our starting goalkeeper last year. Now we are transitioning her to center back this season. Salem Colburn is new to the program. She came from volleyball. We’ve been trying her out at keeper, and we’ll probably move her around on defense as well. We’ll see if she can get some minutes at the varsity level this year. I wish I would’ve had her longer.

“Abby Gatesman is coming off another all-state selection,” he continued. “She had a great year [in 2023]. She scored around 14 goals with several assists. She was our leading scorer. She’ll be in a mid-field role and play some forward as well. She’s in an attacking role and I expect her to have a great year. She’s signed a letter of intent to play at Newman University (Wichita, Kansas) next year. I’m hoping she can match last year’s goals and offensive production this year.

“Carsyn Holland is another volleyball player, and we hope to convert her into a defender. She has a little bit of quickness,” said Post. “Gracyn Newcity was one of my captains last year and will be this year as well. She’s a returning starter at center back. Hopefully she will pick up where she left off. We had a pretty good back line last year.

“Laynee Post has been on the varsity team since last [season] and this is her fourth year,” said the coach. “She will be adding more minutes this year. She’ll play midfield and forward as well. Reagan [Zimmerman] played right back last year and is one of the returning starters this year on that defensive line.” Post also mentioned seniors Elayna Post and Brooklynn Garza, who have played mostly on the junior varsity squad but could see some limited minutes with the varsity team this season.

The nine juniors on the team include Ally Thomas, Kaya Simpson, Victoria Vanderwatt, Hailey Mabry, Annalise Johnson, Brooklyn Kelley, Patyon Scantling, Alyssa Sharp, and Ava Whitaker. Unfortunately, Annalise Johnson is ineligible due to the home school transfer rules but will be able to play next season as a senior.

“Hailey Mabry has been on the varsity and played a few minutes here and there, but we’re looking for her to increase her minutes as a midfielder,” said the coach. “She has some speed and touch on the ball and we’re waiting for her to step into that bigger role. Hopefully this will be the year she does that. Payton Scantling has been named as a team captain. This is her third year. She had a great [season] last year and we expect her to pick up where she left off with all that experience and in a leadership role as well.

“Alyssa [Sharp] is new to the program,” revealed the coach. “This is her first year. She’s coming from volleyball and has taken on the role of goalkeeper. But she’s worked her tail off and has learned a lot. That gives us another body to compete for that starting position at keeper. I’m pleased with the way she’s progressed. Kaya [Simpson] has been with us three years and she’s got some speed and keeps getting better. She’s going to have an increased role this year as an outside mid or outside forward.

“Ally Thomas is an all-conference player from last year,” the coach continued. “She’s started every year since her freshman year, and she had a great year last [season] as a sophomore starter at center mid field. She’s already made improvements since last year. Her touch and control of the ball has [gotten] better. I’m really excited to see what she can do this year as a junior. Victoria Vanderwatt is in her third year and plays on the back line. She will provide some depth that we need. Ava [Whitaker] is in her third year, and she will have an increased role this year. She’s been working hard to win a starting spot.”

Post then turned his attention to the small sophomore class, but two of those players are key to his team’s success this spring. “Last year was a first for me with three freshmen starting and contributing quite a bit,” he said of Mariah Bartok, Farah Crossno, and the now departed Skylar Frey “Mariah comes back as our second leading scorer. She’s got some speed and she’s very physical and not afraid of anything. She scored a lot of goals by being aggressive. I really look for her to increase what she did last year and put a lot of goals in the back of the net. Farrah [Crossno] was our #3 scorer last year. She just joined us because she’s been in wrestling. She’s been playing soccer at the club level during the off-season. My expectations for her are that she will pick up where she left off and increase her production. We really need those two sophomores to find the back of the net like they did last year, so we don’t drop off offensively.

“Trinity Spicer was our backup goalkeeper last year and got some minutes at the varsity level,” added the coach. “She has a lot of promise, but she’s coming from basketball, and we won’t have her until later this month. She’s got good footwork and good quickness, so it will be fun to watch her and Alyssa battle for [goalkeeper]. Jay Townley is in her second year and has progressed nicely. She’s played primarily junior varsity but is trying to break in and get some minutes on the varsity level.” Post also revealed that sophomore Brookland Kelley practices with the team but is ineligible to compete in matches this season due to transfer rules.

The team’s 10 freshmen are Bethany Campora, Adison Compton, Morgan Denny, Kaylee Greer, Mazee Hurt, Kiera Johnson, Laylah Kappler, Savannah Koestoer, Zoe Lamb, and Mya Schnauffer. But with 18 juniors and seniors on the roster, it will be difficult for any ninth graders to break through on the varsity level this season, spending their time on the junior varsity squad and gaining valuable experience to compete for the open spots available in 2025 with the graduation of nine seniors.

Asked to summarize his assessment of his 2024 team, Coach Post said, “We’re returning eight of our 11 starters from last year’s team, and we retain our top three scorers, which is big. Our back line has a lot of experience, but we’re making some changes at keeper. I think our back line won’t skip a beat. We still retain a lot of the athleticism we had, especially in the attacking roles, and that’s going to be beneficial. But we’re not terribly deep, and that’s always a concern.”

As for his appraisal of the 2024 conference race, Post said, “I think Harrison, Siloam Springs, and Russellville will be right up there and I suspect Greenbrier is going to be improved from last year. That’s who we squared off against for that fourth [playoff] spot. We went down to their place and beat them 3-0. I think it’s going to be a battle again for that third, fourth, and fifth spot. I’m not sure how Mountain Home, Van Buren, or Alma stack up, but I’m confident we’re going to be right there in the mix for a playoff spot. My biggest focus right now is making sure we’re ready for that first conference game and go from there. This is the time of year when I get a little nervous, making sure everything is prepared and ready,” concluded the coach.

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