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Run Girls, Run

Run Girls, Run!

While most of us have all been watching our Razorback football team working towards becoming bowl eligible for 2022 and the basketball team flying out to a big start towards their next NCAA March Madness run, our women’s soccer team has beenquietly, patiently, and consistently playing to put themselves intothe NCAA Championship Tournament.

Their 7th consecutive NCAA Tournament.

In fact, nine of the last ten years they have played for the NCAA Championship.

If you haven’t been watching these ladies, you’ve actually been missing some pretty good action.

Their SEC tournament run didn’t turn out as planned, or hoped. They exited in the first round, but not without going to the mat.The ladies jumped out quickly with an early lead from a penalty kick, and held Vanderbilt off until 20 minutes into the secondhalf when Vandy scored to tie it up and send the match into a 1-1 overtime. When overtime failed to determine a winner, to penalty kicks they went.

The Vanderbilt Commodores outscored us on penalty kicks 5-4.

So while that tournament result wasn’t the desired outcome, the Razorbacks’ 11-3-3 regular season was good enough to get them a bid to the NCAA Tournament. As of this writing, they made quick work of their first round opponent, beating Missouri State 6-0. The next round will be, thanks to a surprising upset from Memphis, hosted at the University of Arkansas’ Razorback Fieldagainst Ohio State (happening on Friday, November 18 at 6:30pm.)

Now, personally, I am still a novice to understanding all that is soccer. I can spot offsides on a gridiron easy peasy but on the soccer pitch, not so much. I can’t tell you all the positions on a team or what they do – can possibly can get the offense vs. defense correct, but I do know there is a ton of skill on display when I watch. As a child, my sister played soccer but it was back in the day that only boys were supposed to play and she was the only girl on her YMCA league team as those rules were changing. At that time, though, watching her play on Saturday mornings was the sum total of my involvement; I wasn’t interested in actually learning the game.

But I have tried over the years to watch and expand my knowledge. I have lived places where “futbol” is the national sport and have had friends and coworkers whose children played through high school. I’m not completely soccer-illiterate. And watching the games that have been televised has helped tremendously.

As our ladies move through this tournament, who is who, what is what, and who to watch?

(A huge thank you to the website for helping me to locate this information.)

Anna Podojil, Forward, (the position which is primarily responsible for making goals), is a Senior from Cincinnati, Ohio. Her 44 career goals and 115 career points rank eighth and fifth, respectively, nationally among active DI women’s college soccer players. She is the only Razorback to the named to the all-SEC first team.

Ava Tankersley, Forward, is a Junior from Saint Peters,Missouri. She ranks first in the SEC in shot accuracy (.638) and ranks second in the conference (eighth in the nation) in assists per game (.61). Her 10 assists rank second in the SEC and sixth nationally. She was named to the all-SEC second team.

Grace Barbara, Goalkeeper (name gives away that position’s function), Princeton graduate from Delray Beach, Florida. She successfully shut out 10 teams during the 2022regular season, and got her 11th in the NCAA first round against Missouri State. Her efforts during the season also got her named to the all-SEC second team.

Ellie Podojil, Midfielder (sort of a combination offense/defense position – score if they can but mainly focus on keeping the other team from doing so) is a Junior who, like her sister, is from Cincinnati, Ohio. Her play, alongside fellow-midfielder Bea Franklin, Senior from Seattle, Washington, earned them both all-SEC second team honors.

Rounding out the Razorback all-SEC honors were two Freshman. Ella Riley, Defender (the last woman standing between the opponent and the goalkeeper) from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Makenzie Malham, Midfielder, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, were both selected for their contributions and achievements, and both were named Freshman of the Week during the season.

Of course, there are 11 Razorbacks on the field at any one time and every one of the ladies on the roster is to be commended for their contributions. Team sports must have team players and without one piece, the puzzle is incomplete.

Our 34-woman roster is replete with talent.

I know soccer isn’t for everyone. There’s a lot of running around and heading the ball and chasing it across the pitch, which doesn’t seem all that exciting to some. But when there is action close the goal, either end, my heart beats just as fast as when I’m watching KJ Jefferson looking for an open man in the endzone or Devo Davis flying in for a slam dunk or Zack Gregory headed to the wall to deny a fly ball from being a home run. I want them to succeed!

And I will admit to being a bit sentimental, too. I think about my own sister, pigtails flying as she ran up and down the field, and what it means to be a female in sports today; how things have changed since the advent of Title IX in 1972, and continue to evolve today with other questions in an ever-changing environment. These young ladies have probably predominantly played on all-female teams from the time they decided to play.

Success like Coach Colby Hale has brought to the Razorback soccer program (all NCAA appearances have been under leadership), will continue to shine a positive light on the University and its support of women’s athletics. Our women’s basketball is just getting underway for 2022-2023 after 4 winning seasons coached by Mike Neighbors. Courtney Deifel took on a struggling softball program and has posted 5 consecutive winning seasons herself, including being the regular season SEC champs for the last two years and winning the SEC Tournament for the first time last season. They have been given the tools and resources they need to improve and elevate their programs. Unlike when my sister played college basketball (not at the U of A) and their team bus broke down on an away trip and they sat on the shoulder of the interstate awaiting assistanceas the men’s bus drove past them.

When I wrote “A Beacon on the Hill” and asked the question “why not Arkansas?” this is what I meant. Success at all levels – male and female – and support from the University in terms of coaches, facilities, travel, all add up to make the University of Arkansas a destination for future athletes to consider at the next level.

Support fosters success. Success breeds success. OneRazorback.