The Bearden boys soccer team is arguably the most experienced in the state. With nine seniors on the starting line-up, all of whom watched on as the team won state their freshman year, the elite veterans have carried the Bulldogs throughout the year and are the regular season district champions.
They beat Jefferson County in a district semifinal 9-0 on Wednesday, and they’ll host the district final against Morristown West on Friday at 7 p.m.
“Every game counts in the postseason, doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Coach Ryan Radcliffe said. “It’s not about the end of the run, it’s about taking it one game at a time.
“We’re still trying to build our identity, and we’re still trying to come together.”
The team has been dominant in the attacking third this year, as they have scored 5 or more goals in nine games this season. Collin Lewis leads the team in goals for the second straight year with 22, but he has had significantly more help this year.
Carter Turner (16), Jonathan Meystrik (14), and Caleb Wilkins (13) are also scoring goals at a high clip this season.
“I’ve been really impressed with the amount of people that are scoring goals,” Coach Radcliffe said. “That’s going to continue to be our motto going in is can we have a little diversity in our attack; we don’t want to be a predictable team.”
Sharing the scoring load has also allowed Lewis to create more chances for Bearden this year. He also leads the team with 22 assists, meaning he has been involved in a remarkable 2.6 goals a game this year.
A challenge going into the playoffs will be finishing through and playing a complete game.
“In my mind, I haven’t seen us play a full 80 minute game,” Coach Radcliffe said. “That’s bad that I haven’t seen it yet, but good because maybe we’re saving it, and it’ll start coming together here in the playoffs.”
For these seniors, the experience of winning state in their freshman year and learning from that 2016 team has helped them realize the standards of Bearden soccer.
“It gives us confidence to know we’ve seen people that have done it (win state),” senior Asiimwe Ironside said. “We’ve grown because we played a team in Georgia that was really good, and I think that prepared us to play hard knowing what was ahead of us.”
Added senior Sam Patterson: “It humbles us and gives us a guideline to how we need to structure our season and attitudes to get the same result we had freshman year.”
Going into the postseason, the Bulldogs will rely on the sense of family to bind them together and make a run in state.
“Since the beginning, it’s been the growing of a brotherhood and family, really understanding what part everyone plays on the team,” Patterson said. “It’s a fun time because it’s win or go home.”
It hasn’t quite gotten to win-or-go-home time yet, but it’s coming soon.
The Bulldogs will play in the region tournament regardless of whether or not they win Friday, but if they beat Morristown West, they will host a region semifinal next week against Dobyns Bennett instead of having to travel to Science Hill. The region semifinal will be an elimination game.