Friday, March 18, 2011

SPORTS>>Fast start for storied Searcy soccer

Leader sportswriter

Searcy soccer has netted a lot of tradition over the past five years.

For the boys team, it has meant four straight 6A state championships; for the girls, three titles in four straight trips.

And from the looks of this year’s Lions and Lady Lions, more hardware could be on the way later this spring.

The Lady Lions had to undergo a certain amount of rebuilding after losing six seniors from last year’s state championship team. But they have fared well playing against larger 7A schools in early non-conference action, including a 1-0 victory over Cabot on Tuesday and a 1-0 loss to Bryant a week earlier on a corner kick in the final two minutes.

There are still bugs to be worked out with the younger group, third-year coach Larry Stamps said.

“We’re still standing in the mud when the ball’s being delivered,” Stamps said. “In the box, you’ve got to be quick. You can’t two-or-three touch it, and expect to get a shot off.”

The Lady Lions are sophomore strong, including standout forwards Candice Adams and McKenna Smith. The pair was responsible for Searcy’s only goal against Cabot, and Smith was a big part of last year’s state title push as a freshman.

Senior defender Elliott Scarbrough is better known as a basketball player, but has also become a big-time contributor on the soccer field as well.

But the tradition starts long before a player reaches high school. Searcy has one of the best youth-league soccer programs in the state, and some of the Lady Lions also take part in summer traveling clubs.

“We have some parents who take these kids out, and they have traveling teams,” Stamps said. “And that’s the secret right there. Anybody willing to do that, you’re going to have a good team.

“They can come to high school, and you can round off some rough edges, but if the parents get them out there and play all the time, you see a world of difference.”

Year-round weight training has helped increase the overall size of high school athletes over the years, and certainly the basketball players bring height to the soccer field.

But Stamps pointed out average-sized kids can make a difference on the soccer field.

“You don’t have to be a giant to play soccer,” Stamps said. “If you’re small, you can play. You don’t have to be muscled up or anything like that. More kids are interested in it. And we’ve had a good fielding foundation. It’s carried over.

“We’ve had some success, and now the kids really want to come out.”

Stamps has plenty of coaching experience behind him with assistants John Moon and former Searcy varsity football coach Bart McFarland.

The boys’ team is off to another successful start at 5-1 and 1-0 in 6A-East Conference play. The Lions’ only loss came to Catholic 2-0 in the final of a preseason tournament.

The Lions have defeated Little Rock Christian 2-0, Bryant 2-0 and opened their conference schedule with an 8-0 rout of Marion. Third-year boys coach Bronco King said there is plenty leadership with 13 seniors on the roster.

“Right now, at this point, I see us being right there,” King said. “We are where we need to be, so I guess the main thing we need to do is keep that going. There’s still two months left and a lot of games left, and we need to improve on some things.

“We have nine returners back and some good senior leadership.”

King agrees with Stamps that Searcy’s youth leagues are key to the high school program’s success.

He also said the state championship tradition motivates younger players looking to join in and carve out their own accomplishments.

“There’s excitement with the younger ones,” King said. “They want to do what the previous teams have done; they want a part of that also. What the previous teams have done with the championships they’ve won is to set an example.

“And our younger ones definitely don’t want to be the ones who have a let down.”