GHS girls soccer team looking good for playoffs

GHS girls soccer team looking good for playoffs

The Greenwood Lady Bulldogs are heading back to the state playoffs for the first time since 2018. The GHS girls have an insurmountable lead in the race for fourth place in the 5A West over fifth-place Greenbrier. Ironically, Greenwood goes to Greenbrier on Friday to end the conference schedule and the regular season, but the Lady Panthers are more than two games back in the standings, and more importantly, they are seven points behind the Lady Bulldogs in the point rankings.

Greenwood solidified its hold on fourth place by winning its last two matches over Mountain Home and Alma. The Lady Bulldogs are presently 6-6-1 in league play and 9-6-1 overall. The league leaders are Siloam Springs (12-1), Harrison (12-1), and Russellville (9-3-1). The top four teams qualify for the postseason.

Following spring break, the season resumed on March 28th at Siloam Springs, and it was a rough game for the Lady Bulldogs, who trailed 3-0 at the half before losing 6-0 to the league’s top team. But two days later at Mountain Home they rebounded with a 3-1 victory, despite enduring a 90-minute delay for lightning. The wet conditions made it difficult to keep possession, said Head Coach Andrew Post, but Greenwood still led 2-0 at the half. The goals were scored by Mariah Bartok, Abby Gatesman, and Ally Thomas.

On April 3rd at Alma, the Greenwood ladies rolled to a 6-2 victory in a very physical game played in warm conditions. The Lady Bulldogs played well and controlled the flow of the game. “We got on the scoreboard early and really didn't look back,” said Coach Post. Abby Gatesman was brilliant with four of the six goals. Mariah Bartok and Ally Thomas accounted for the other two scores.

Three days later Greenwood hosted Greenbrier in a match that ended in a 2-2 tie, earning one point for each team in the conference rankings. “It was a tight match from start to finish between two evenly matched teams,” said Coach Post. Greenbrier scored first, but the Lady Bulldogs battled back with two goals before halftime, the last one in the final seconds before the break. The visitors then scored midway through the second half to tie the game. Freshman Farah Crossno scored both GHS goals.

The following Tuesday, April 11th, the Lady Goblins of Harrison came to Smith-Robinson Stadium and showed why they are among the power teams in the conference, beating the Lady Bulldogs, 7-1. Madelyn Wilkinson scored Greenwood’s only goal late in the contest. Harrison led 5-0 at the half. “It was a rough game for the team as we played very intimidated from start to finish,” said Post.

Unfortunately, the next Friday the GHS ladies suffered their worse loss of the season at Russellville, 9-1. “We started the game with a goal in the first eight minutes to take the lead, but quickly let [Russellville] tie it up, then we just fell apart, giving up five goals before the half. Greenwood’s sole score was by Ava Thomas.

The back-to-back blowout losses to Harrison and Russellville was the low point of the season for the GHS girls. But the Lady Bulldogs got back on the winning track the next week with a 3-1 victory at home over Van Buren on April 18th and began their final push toward making the playoffs.

“[Van Buren] was a big game for us, staying in [the hunt for] that 4th seed and qualifying for the state playoffs. We were in the driver’s seat,” said Coach Post. “We started with a couple goals in the first half by Abby Gatesman, then gave up a penalty kick in the second half. But Mariah Bartok was able to score late in the second half to give us the win.”

Last week the Lady Bulldogs split two matches with Siloam Springs and Mountain Home. After losing to the Lady Panthers 6-0 in late March, the GHS girls showed how much they have improved despite a 2-1 loss the second time around. “We showed a lot of improvement,” said Post. “We definitely played a lot harder than we did before. It was raining throughout the match and that affected conditions a bit.

“We played a different formation, and our girls [executed] it well,” he continued. “They were just solid. They didn’t make a lot of mistakes and we were able to create a few [scoring] chances for ourselves. I was pleased with our hard our girls played and kept themselves in the game. It just goes to show the potential the girls can reach when they play as well as they did.

“The next day I had a lot of texts and phone calls from other coaches around the conference wanting to talk about what we did differently in that match. It was a good confidence booster for us, for sure,” said the coach. Greenwood trailed 2-0 at the break but got a second half goal by Ava Thomas off a free kick.

Last Friday the GHS girls made the long trek to Baxter County and Mountain Home, but the trip was worth it after extracting a 2-0 win, earning three more points in the conference rankings. “It was a big match for us at the end of the season,” said Post. “It was a long bus trip, but we scored within five minutes of the game starting, and I knew right then our girls were going to [win]. It was an excellent game, and I don’t think the score was indicative of how much of a better team we were [that day].”

As it turned out, the Mountain Home victory did the trick as far as clinching a playoff spot for the Lady Bulldogs, giving them two wins over the Lady Bombers on the season and creating enough distance between the two squads to put Greenwood over the top as the fourth seed. Abby Gatesman and Farrah Crossno scored the two goals for the Lady Bulldogs, who led 2-0 at the intermission.

So, this past Tuesday’s contest against last place Alma could have been a trap game – an emotional letdown after clinching a playoff spot against Mountain Home. But the GHS girls were up to the task once more at home against the Lady Airedales at Smith-Robinson Stadium, a dominant 5-1 victory for the Lady Bulldogs. Five different players put the ball in the net for Greenwood, starting with Madelyn Wilkinson, Abby Gatesman, Payton Scantling, Mariah Bartok, and Ally Thomas.

“I was a little concerned that my girls might overlook this game and its importance,” said Post. “Alma has some quality girls that play really hard, but we came out and scored about three minutes into the first half and didn’t look back. We gave up one goal just before the half to lead 3-1, then scored twice more in the second half. They came out and played really hard. I was pleased with how hard they played and kept their focus.”

Asked about the improvement and growth of his team, Post said, “They’ve put in a lot of work this season and we’ve beaten teams we didn’t beat last year,” referring to three wins over Van Buren, two over Mountain Home, and a tie with Greenbrier in their first meeting this season. “I think once we went through that first cycle of [conference] games, the girls started to believe that the fourth seed and the playoffs were attainable. There was a lot of growth along the way, and we are finishing strong. We did exactly what we needed to do and what we talked about at the start of the season.”

Asked about any surprises or developments during the season that made a big difference, Post was quick to mention three ninth graders who have been pivotal in this year’s turnaround. “We had three freshmen that really cemented their spots in the starting lineup. Coaches don’t generally rely on freshmen too much because they are so young and don’t have any varsity experience. But I’ve got three freshmen in Mariah Bartok, Skyler Frey, and Farah Crossno that have been big contributors, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, scoring goals as freshman. Skyler Frey is the starting center back and that’s a rare thing in 5A soccer. Mariah and Farah are both forwards and they’ve scored [several] goals this year.”

The Lady Bulldogs have also been blessed to escape any major injuries this spring other than the usual bumps and bruises that might keep players out for a game or two. “Knock on wood, we have been very fortunate not to have any big injuries, because we’re not terribly deep. I’ve been very thankful,” said the coach.

Asked about his seniors, Post agreed that the quartet have been instrumental in providing leadership in both practice and during matches. “I’ve got four seniors – two of them starters – but they’ve all done a good job of helping in practice or on the field [in matches]. “Madelyn Wilkinson and Ava Thomas are offensive players for me and have put in some goals. But it’s how hard they play and having their voices in the locker room or in the huddle or on the field that’s been important. They contribute in other ways besides just the stat sheet. Elise Remerscheid and Grace Aishman are my other two seniors,” said the coach.

Not overlooking Friday’s regular season and conference finale at Greenbrier, Coach Post expects to face either Searcy or Valley View in the first round of the playoffs next Thursday at 2 p.m. One of those two teams will be the #1 seed from the 5A East, and both are currently unbeaten in their conference. Valley View is also hosting the state tournament and will be especially motivated to earn their league’s top seed.

“We could very well play Valley View at Valley View,” admitted Post. “They are a quality team. They always have been. They’ve been in 4A and were bumped up to 5A like Harrison. But they are very good. Anything is possible,” he said when asked if it would be a winnable match for the Lady Bulldogs. “We [lost to] Siloam Springs, 2-1, and they are one of the top teams in the state, and our girls were pretty pumped with how they played. We are going into the playoffs as a team with nothing to lose and we shouldn’t take us lightly.”

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