Arkansas cap­i­tal­iz­ing on soc­cer suc­cess

The Saline Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By Nate Allen Ra­zor­backs Re­port

FAYET­TEVILLE While far­ing well on their own, the Univer­sity of Arkansas women’s soc­cer Ra­zor­backs gladly take what last Sun­day’s

U.S. women’s World Cup cham­pi­onship team should pro­vide.

The 2015 U.S. women’s World Cup cham­pi­ons en­hanced in­ter­est for the Ra­zor­backs that 2015 au­tumn, said Colby Hale, Arkansas’ soc­cer coach since 2012.

So should this one. “Soc­cer is grow­ing and the women’s game in particular is grow­ing by leaps and bounds,” Hale said. “So I would an­tic­i­pate a spike in attendance and in­ter­est and ev­ery­thing.”

He’s not just an­tic­i­pat­ing but cul­ti­vat­ing.

“We did a cou­ple of watch par­ties and so­cial me­dia you’ll gain some new view­er­ship based on gen­eral in­ter­est in the Women’s World Cup,” Hale said last Mon­day. “There is a sea­son ticket push off some of that.”

It’s a multi-faceted ef­fort fu­eled by UA soc­cer’s re­cent suc­cess, long­stand­ing Ra­zor­backs tra­di­tions built first from foot­ball ex­tend­ing through­out UA’S men’s and women’s ath­let­ics, plus the un­ex­plored.

“We’re try­ing to build a niche,” Hale said. “The South has been a lit­tle slower adopt­ing soc­cer be­cause it’s foot­ball first. But soc­cer among women is ex­plod­ing. There are a lot of peo­ple moved into Ben­tonville who are here for work (Wal­mart or Wal­mart ven­dors). Maybe they didn’t grow up as Ra­zor­back fans and they have kids and are looking for things to do as a fam­ily. And you have a pretty good His­panic and in­ter­na­tional mar­ket here in Spring­dale. So we’re try­ing to tie into some ar­eas that are soc­cer by nature.”

With home games geared for Fri­day nights and or Sun­day af­ter­noons, Hale’s Ra­zor­backs cap­i­tal­ize on foot­ball week­ends.

Above all, their suc­cess, five NCAA Tour­na­ments since 2013, and ad­vanc­ing to the last three SEC Tour­na­ment fi­nals, in­spires in­ter­est.

“My first year we played No. 1 in the coun­try

FSU (Florida State) and I think we had 200 fans,” Hale said. “Just zero in­ter­est. Peo­ple didn’t know who we were. But slowly and surely we’ve built it. We’ve played some good home games like Duke when they were No. 2 in the coun­try, Texas A&M (whom Arkansas de­feated) last year when they were No. 2 in the coun­try.

We’ve played Penn State when they were No. 1 in the coun­try. I think our record attendance was like 3,600 or 3,800 for Duke and Penn State. So our hope is to keep build­ing that and show­cas­ing.”

They’ve got a big 2019 show­case host­ing on Sept. 15 the North Carolina Tar Heels, the 2018 na­tional runner-ups and usu­ally na­tional cham­pi­ons.

“They’ve won 22 of the

30 na­tional cham­pi­onships in soc­cer,” Hale said.

“They are like Uconn on steroids in women’s bas­ket­ball. They are a leg­endary pro­gram.”

How did he get UNC 41-year coach­ing leg­end An­son Dor­rance tak­ing the Tar Heels to Fayet­teville?

“His goal is to win the na­tional cham­pi­onship ev­ery year so he likes going into tough en­vi­ron­ments,” Hale said. “We are gain­ing the rep­u­ta­tion as one of the five best most in­tense crowds in the coun­try. It’s huge to have a school like that rec­og­nize that to come here.”

Arkansas hosts Ok­la­homa in its Aug. 25 sea­son-opener. For SEC games, Arkansas hosts Alabama, de­fend­ing SEC reg­u­lar-sea­son champ Van­der­bilt, Ole Miss, Mis­sis­sippi State and Ge­or­gia.

Led by Kayla Mck­eon and Tori Can­nata, nine goals each, the Ra­zor­backs re­turn “ev­ery goal” scored off last year’s 14-5-1 team, Hale said.

ALL-SEC de­fender Ha­ley Van­fos­sen and rebounding off in­jury star Parker Goins re­turn.

“A lot of peo­ple would have said our best player last year would have been Parker Goins but she got injured half­way through the sea­son” Hale said. “A few years ago (2015) we lost a cou­ple of key play­ers and it tor­pe­doed our sea­son. This last year we lost two of our key play­ers and just kept win­ning and made the SEC fi­nal. So we’re get­ting to the point that we have the depth we need and the talent we need.”

Arkansas returns reg­u­lar 2018 goal­keep­ers Alexis Bach and Tay­lor Beitz

and added All­big 12 grad­u­ate trans­fer goal­keeper Katie Ludz­ick of TCU.

“Our goal­keep­ing should be the best it’s ever been,” Hale said.

Ju­nior re­serve for­ward Caro­line Camp­bell of Bryant is the Ra­zor­backs’ lone Arkansan.

“She’s a good lit­tle player,” Hale said. “She will con­trib­ute in some games for us I’m sure.”

Hale fore­sees soc­cer’s emer­gence even­tu­ally adding more Arkansas talent.

“There are a cou­ple of Arkansas kids com­ing down the pipeline,” Hale said. “If we can find that Arkansas player that really comes in and makes an im­pact, that would be huge for a lot of things.”

Arkansas­ra­zor­backs.com

Former Bryant Lady Hor­net two-time Ga­torade Player of the Year and cur­rent Arkansas Ra­zor­back Caro­line Camp­bell com­petes in a match last sea­son.

Arkansas­ra­zor­backs.com

Arkansas Coach Colby Hale walks the side­lines in a match this past sea­son. Hale says the women’s USA soc­cer team’s vic­tory in the World Cup and Arkansas’ re­cent suc­cess will re­new in­ter­est in the sport and the Ra­zor­backs.

Arkansas­ra­zor­backs.com

Former Bryant Lady Hor­net two-time Ga­torade Player of the Year and cur­rent Arkansas Ra­zor­back Caro­line Camp­bell com­petes in a match last sea­son.

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