Every high school team has to work at the beginning of a new season to fill gaps and make up for the absence of the previous year’s seniors.
When it’s a program that is consistently as successful as Bearden boys soccer, that can be even more difficult.
“I think the big thing and the challenge I put on the boys is to not try to be last year’s team or the state championship team,” Bearden Coach Ryan Radcliffe said.
The Bulldogs will continue to work through those challenges when they travel to former district rival Maryville on Thursday at 7. Even with a new and young team, the players feel like each of them carries a unique level of experience that will help the team grow.
Senior captain Mitchell Mazrimas feels as though his past years on the team will help him lead this year’s team in the right direction.
“My freshman and sophomore year, we had really good seniors and my sophomore year, we were able to go and win state, so that gave me a lot of experience to see what I should be this year for my younger teammates,” Mazrimas said.
Last season, Bearden senior Will Lewis played a large part in the team’s success. This season, Coach Radcliffe turns to Lewis’s younger brother, junior Collin Lewis in hope that he will fill his brother’s shoes.
“It’s kind of funny because he’s just stepped right into that role that Will had,” Coach Radcliffe said. “I think as he matures throughout the season, he’s going to start scoring more and more, so we’ll rely a lot on Collin.”
When asked about the role he is expected to take after his brother, Lewis turned the attention from himself back to his team.
“We have lost some really good seniors, which will give the younger players and new players a chance to step up,” he said
Lewis also knows he and the rest of the team will look for the experience of their seniors for direction.
“We are a pretty young team and so I think it’s good for us that we have some experience with things like state,” Lewis said. “I also think it’s good for a team like us to have some of the older guys who know what they’re doing and have been there before to help the younger guys get used to what it’s going to be like on a bigger stage.”
Certainly, the Bulldogs will have to spend time adjusting to the new atmosphere, but there is no lack of confidence coming from their coach.
“I think athletically and talent wise, we have one of the deepest teams that I have ever had,” Coach Radcliffe said.
Coach Radcliffe knows that with the right team chemistry Bearden will have a strong season.
“With every young or new team that’s forming you’re working towards finding that group that can put it all together,” Radcliffe said. “There’s some big shoes to fill, and I think with this group it’s more about them finding their own identity and kind of building a team together and starting their own legacy.”