As the Bearden boys soccer team looks to step into the role of defending last season’s state championship, replacing the offensive firepower that led to the school’s fourth state title will be a priority.
A large part of Bearden soccer’s 2016 offensive success came at the hands of four then-seniors – forwards Gabe Alvarez, Kelvin Garcia, and Spencer Smiley, and midfielder Jameson Elmore.
Those four accounted for 84 of 106 (79 percent) Bearden goals last season. Alvarez, Smiley, and Elmore started all four years at Bearden.
“It’s been a lot of adjusting because a lot of the guys we had last year knew what we were going to do, and they knew how we were going to get them the ball,” senior midfielder and captain Will Lewis said. “This year, it’s been a little bit different because some of these guys I’ve never played with.”
Compared to last season when four experienced seniors were leading the Bulldogs’ offensive attack, Lewis will be asked to do more offensively this season.
Lewis scored just four goals all of last season – albeit one of those was an equalizer in the state title game. He has already surpassed his total from the 2016 season through just four games, with six goals to his name already this season. The next highest goal scorer has just one goal this season.
Lewis and the Bulldogs will look to gain some early season momentum in this weekend’s Bearden Invitational. Bearden (2-2) will face CPA (2-2) at 8:30 p.m. at home on Friday night in their second game of the weekend. The Bulldogs beat Gallatin, 2-0, on Thursday night.
“After all of our seniors departed from last year, it was pretty clear that I was going to slide up to the attacking mid spot because that’s what I’m better at, and that’s what I like doing,” Lewis said. “It’s been a lot of fun this season to not play as much defense and be more offensive minded because last year the team didn’t really need that offensive prowess because we had so many guys that were able to do it for us.”
While Lewis’s ability to create more offense this year has provided an early season boost for the Bulldogs, production from the three forwards will be a priority moving forward.
“I think the talent [at the forward position] is there and the people are there; it’s just getting some of these other players to kind of step up and be more of goal scorers and not just rely on those guys that we had last year,” Bearden coach Ryan Radcliffe said. “That’s the big challenge.
“It’s not necessarily replacing the three, it’s more of a fact of getting some of these other guys that didn’t have to play that role to fill in new roles out on the field.”
Through the early portion of the season, Bearden’s primary starting forwards have been senior Emre Ucak, and sophomores Caleb Wilkins and Tanner Whited.
Ucak specifically, who was Bearden’s third leading returning goal scorer from last season, has been called upon to provide production this season after gaining experience as a junior last season.
“I learned a lot from the seniors last year with all that they did,” Ucak said. “They taught me how to do stuff that I didn’t think that I could do, so now I’m trying to do what they did last year to help the team.”
Added Coach Radcliffe: “That’s one of the big keys this year. I think a lot of our attack goes through Emre. He possesses different qualities than Gabe or Kelvin or Spencer did, so it’s a new look up there. Every time he’s on the ball, he kind of has that aura about him that he’s going to make something happen.”