Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Razorback soccer to continue pushing forward
Arkansas' Anna Podojil kicks the ball during an NCAA Tournament game against Rutgers on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in Piscataway, N.J.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas women’s soccer coach Colby Hale said next year’s team will surely look a little different, but the ultra-aggressive style he’s adapted won’t change a bit.
“We won’t change our DNA or our identity, but we’ll be a little different,” said Hale, whose team finished off the best season in school history falling 2-2 (4-2) in penalty kicks at Rutgers last Friday in the Elite Eight.
The No. 7 Razorbacks (19-4-1) finished with a school record for wins in a season, claimed a third consecutive Southeastern Conference regular-season title and advanced to the final eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
Those accomplishments need to be remembered, Hale said. But they will also have to replace a group of veterans who helped build the program into arguably one of the best in the country over the past three seasons.
“I was really proud,” Hale said. “This team wanted to do something no one had done before and we did that. We went to an Elite Eight. I thought we played well in the game, 2-2, against a team that was undefeated in the Big Ten, a 1 seed at their place.
“We’re never going to be happy about it, but I do think they’re going to be proud. They know they played hard. They know they left it out there. They know they did a lot of great things and they’re setting us up for the future.”
Hale even likened his fast-paced, high-pressure system to what Nolan Richardson did when he helped lead the Razorbacks men’s basketball program to national acclaim.
“It’s 40 minutes of hell,” Hale said. “We press really high and really often. Some people say they press, but they don’t press like we do. Nolan Richardson called it that. He said, ‘We’re going to make you uncomfortable.’ And that’s what we do.”
Five fifth-year seniors were in the starting lineup in the final game Friday and will be missed. The trio of Parker Goins, Taylor Malham and Haley VanFossen grew up playing soccer together, decided to all come to Fayetteville and have enjoyed outstanding careers. Midfielder Kayla McKeon is actually in her sixth season as a Razorback.
They have been the cornerstones for a team that went 24-3-1 in the SEC over last three seasons. But the cupboard is far from bare for the Razorbacks.
Forward Anna Podojil, a United Soccer Coaches first-team All-American and three-time first-team All-SEC selection, leads a talented group of returnees. Players such as Reagan Swindall, Kiley Dulaney, Ava Tankersley and Emilee Hauser are expected to take a step forward, Hale said.
All four played significant minutes, as did Sophie Aragon, who earned SEC All-Freshman honors.
Sophomore Ellie Podojil and junior transfer Jessica De Filippo both suffered season-ending injuries but are expected to return and be key contributors. Hale also said freshman Greer Maguire, who redshirted this season, is expected to be in the mix, along with a few players in a signing class of 14.
Adding players through the transfer portal is also a possibility, he said.
“We could easily start a team of returning players,” Hale said. “Four forwards in Sophie, Tank, Anna and Kiley, who have all started a lot of games. I don’t know that we’ll be young, I just think there’ll be some faces in bigger roles.
“You always lose good players, but we also have good players returning. It’ll be our job to put them in position to keep this thing going.”
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