Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Shorthanded Razorbacks continue to persevere
Arkansas coach Colby Hale is shown with players prior to a game against Tennessee on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The No. 6 University of Arkansas women’s soccer team continues to stand tall in the SEC, despite not being at 100%.
The Razorbacks (11-2, 6-0 SEC) defeated Vanderbilt 1-0 in overtime on Sunday in Nashville, Tenn., to notch their school-record 11th consecutive victory. They did it despite missing four key players for undisclosed reasons for a third consecutive match.
Arkansas will try to keep that winning streak going when it plays host to Missouri tonight at Razorback Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
They will likely have to do it without key players, including first-team All-America forward Anna Podojil. She along with Ava Benedetti, Reagan Swindall and Bea Franklin are still considered day-to-day, Arkansas Coach Colby Hale said. But he also said they are expected to return in the next couple of weeks, though it is not discipline related and would not elaborate further.
Arkansas has also lost sophomore Ellie Podojil and junior Jessica De Filippo to season-ending injuries earlier this season.
Hale said having players continue to make plays in key situations has been huge but especially in the overtime win at Vanderbilt when depth became more of a factor.
“We just said to the team ,‘We like this team. We’re going to have to have some people step up which we did,” Hale said. “Also when you’re ranked high, you’re going to get everyone’s best effort. They’re good and they’re motivated.
“We had kids step up in this three-game stretch where we didn’t have everyone. And that’s gonna benefit us moving forward because now you have kids who are asked to play bigger roles and they did that fantastic. Now moving forward we’ve got even more players with experience which I think just pays off.”
Arkansas has been dominant in the SEC throughout the regular season over the past two-plus seasons, winning back-to-back league titles and going 21-2-1 — losing only to South Carolina twice and tying Georgia.
The Razorbacks moved up a spot in the United Soccer Coaches poll this week and are now No. 1 in the RPI. They have wins over three ranked teams and their only two losses are to top 10 teams. Arkansas travels to No. 23 Auburn next Thursday.
Up first is Missouri (5-8, 1-5). The Tigers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 3-2 overtime win at Florida on Sunday.
Hale said the team will look to keep pushing forward with four regular-season matches remaining.
“We still gotta keep growing and getting better,” Hale said. “We’re not resting on our laurels. We have to maintain consistency in training and in matches and the other piece could be attention to detail.
“We’ve done some good things in games, but [Sunday] was our first shutout in a while. We’ve got some things to work on.”
The Razorbacks will celebrate eight seniors including Cora Duininck, Parker Goins, Bryana Hunter, Taylor Malham, Tyler Runnels, Haley VanFossen, Kaelee Van Gundy and Payton Woodward with a post-match ceremony tonight.
But Hale also pointed out some younger players have done well when called upon.
“The three players we started up front the last three are technically all freshmen,” Hale said. “Two of them are Covid freshmen, but all three will have three years of eligibility left. It’s not like the team we put out there is super old, but they played mature.
“I think they follow the leadership of some of the older ones and the way they handle stuff.”
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