When now-juniors Will Lewis and Michael Tarantino first saw themselves starting for the Bulldog soccer team as sophomores, they knew that all their hard work on the field had finally paid off.
Lewis and Tarantino have been best friends since first grade, and the reason for their friendship has grown around their love for playing soccer.
“I actually met Will playing soccer in first grade, and we’ve been best friends since then and that has really helped our chemistry on and off the field,” Tarantino said. “We always know where the other one is on the field and having that chemistry in high school is something that a lot of people don’t have.”
Added Lewis: “It is awesome to start on this team, and it is everything we have worked for. We have been really good friends since first grade and have always played soccer together. We have always been those two center-mids together that are always working together.”
The chemistry that Tarantino has described has also been yielding impressive results for Bearden (15-3, 6-1 District 4-AAA) – winning their past six games with an impressive margin of 26-3.
Bearden has already locked up the top spot in District 4-AAA, and they will host either West (10-5-2, 4-2-1) or Hardin Valley (4-7-2, 2-3-2) next Wednesday for the start of the district tournament.
Bearden’s midfield is made up of three primary starters – Lewis and Tarantino in the holding roles and senior Jameson Elmore as an attacking mid. With the loads of talent on this particular team, Coach Ryan Radcliffe has been shifting up his team’s identity.
The team runs what it is called a “hybrid formation” where they shift up their style of play multiple times a game. With Lewis and Tarantino in the midfield, the Bulldogs know that they can quickly and effectively change up their style of play whenever it is needed.
“Anytime you have seen us struggle in games it has been when teams haven’t pressed us as much and sat back on us and play more a deep defense on us,” Coach Radcliffe said. “We are just so talented that when teams press us more gaps open up for us to play in.
“It is a tribute to Will and Michael in the midfield because you can see their skill and vision on the field. Those two have played together since they were little and their chemistry in the middle has saved us a lot. They play more of a defensive role and stop the other team’s attack. When they win the ball they’re looking to distribute it immediately and get our forwards going on attack.”
Even with Bearden’s strong season this past year, many of its young starters who also are starters this year see that this team this year has grown in many aspects of the game.
“We have come a long way from last year where we were all kind of young players thrown into the fire, and this year we are much more mature,” Tarantino said. “You can see it as the year has worn on and we have listened to Coach [Radcliffe] and been trying to play the game for the full 80 minutes.
“It has been good for us to put together a game like that and also that chemistry plays into that as well.”
With the district tournament right around the corner, Bearden eyes a deep run in the postseason. Even with their success so far, they know the only part they can bring with them from the regular season to the postseason is the strong level of play they have exhibited throughout the whole season.
“The district tournament is like a different season for us because everything we have done all season really doesn’t matter because anything can happen in the tournament,” Lewis said. “There are so many teams out there that have a chance at winning it so the thing that we need to do the most is to forget about the season we have had so far and start over and play the hardest we can.”