Leader Blues

Friday, May 02, 2008

SPORTS>>In search of a repeat performance

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

For the second straight year, both Searcy teams will play for the 6A state soccer championship in Fayetteville at Lady’Back Field. The Lions and Lady Lions both won the title last year, and have a chance to make history today by winning back-to-back crowns.

The Lions will enter Saturday’s championship match against Mountain Home with a 20-2-2 record. After clinching their second straight conference title in April, they cruised through the playoffs over the week with a 4-0 second-round win over Benton, and recorded another shutout over Texarkana in the semifinals 3-0.

The Bombers have the distinction of being the only 6A East opponent to hand a loss to Searcy during the regular season. Their only other loss came at the hands of 7A quarterfinalist Russellville.

The Lions are led offensively by freshman Steven Seitz, who comes into the title game with 14 goals for the season. Junior Brandon West is a close second with 11 goals, and another freshman, Isca Garcia, has eight goals on the season.

“We’re pretty well balanced,” Searcy coach Jeff Davis said. “We know what (Mountain Home’s) strengths are, and our kids know what to expect.”

Davis says that he has no shortage of capable scorers, but it’s the Lions’ defensive prowess that has gotten them to this point.
Senior goalkeeper Ryan Wilburn leads that front. Wilburn has posted 10 shutouts this season, including both playoff games, and had a four-save performance against Texarkana in Tuesday’s semifinal game.

“He has had some key saves in a couple of games,” Davis said. “But our defensive four in the front is such a quality bunch, that he doesn’t have to make a lot of saves. Our defense has played well all season; they do not allow a lot of goals.”

For the second straight year, Jonesboro stands in the way of the Lady Lions and a state championship. They downed the Lady Hurricane in a thrilling 3-1 championship match in 2007, and Searcy coach Cindy Emfinger said her squad should be even more comfortable entering this year’s game. Only two players graduated from last year’s team, and Emfinger is hoping the experience will pay off.

“We know what to expect a lot more this year,” Emfinger said. “Things won’t be quite as suspenseful for us. There will always be nerves before any game, but the overall anxiety should be diminished.

The Lady Lions are 19-2-1. They went 12-0 through their East schedule this season to capture their second-straight league title, and have already beaten Jonesboro three times this year.

McKenzie Clark, Jamie Lancaster, Rachel Mina and Lindsey McGary are Searcy’s biggest scoring threats. The Lady Lions outscored conference opponents by a total of 80-2 over a 12-game span.

Three different players have spent time in front of the net for the Lady Lions this year. Jordan Fust, Aly Eaves and Rachel Brumon have started at goalkeeper.

“Everyone is on an even playing level now,” Emfinger said. “No one team has any advantage or disadvantage. We’ve been trying to guard against having any false senses of security. Jonesboro is a really tough team to play, and we don’t want to be overconfident and end up not being prepared.

The Lady Lions will take on Jonesboro at 4 p.m. today, followed by the boys match at 6 p.m.