FAYETTEVILLE – After a tremendous 7-2-0 start, the University of Arkansas soccer team has faced more than opponents the past three weeks. The Lady Razorbacks enter the final three weeks of the season with a patchwork of starters compared to its opening day roster.
“Usually you lose players for a game or two over the course of the year,” Arkansas head coach Gordon Henderson said. “I have not had a series of injuries like this on a team in 25 years. Some teams would fold under the adversity but this squad still believes that it is good enough to not just compete in the SEC, but also to win enough games to qualify for the SEC Tournament in November.”
Even before the more catastrophic injuries the past weeks, Arkansas has been short-handed at certain positions since the start of the fall. It might be easier to list the shorter number of Lady’Backs who have not been sidelined this year with an injury or illness. Through it all, the skipper has learned the character of his team.
“I can assure you of one thing,” Henderson continued. “This team will give it everything they have for the rest of the year. They are fighting to the very end like true Razorbacks.”
Arkansas’ original starting 11 is scrambled by injuries, with six of the group being sidelined for portions of the season. Two of the starting 11, senior Sarah Gwisdala and freshman Kelly O’Connor have undergone surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate ligaments and two are currently recovering from high ankle sprains (Allison Harris and Kim Schleif). Senior Alison Harter has missed significant time to a rash of minor injuries that alone would have kept a player out for just a couple of matches and freshman Rachel Carlson suffered a shoulder injury last weekend that will sideline her for the duration of the year.
“Injuries are a part of the game and any team is going to have to deal with them,” Henderson said. “The amount of injuries that we have had this season has forced us to make some changes. It has also impacted the number of minutes our players are on the field, but overall I couldn’t be more proud of the way the team has responded. There’s no question that this squad fully fit was ready to compete at a high level in the SEC, however we can stand here and moan about our injuries or we can choose as a program, staff and team to reflect on the positives that have come out of this. As a program we stress the importance of team relationships and not making excuses. I feel that the players are living proof of that right now.”
Arkansas’ injury total has tripled over the past three weeks beginning with the start of the month. The first week of October saw Arkansas’ leading scorer, O’Connor, injure her knee in practice followed closely by the news that freshman Beth McVean would miss the rest of the season to mononucleosis. On Oct. 7 against Tennessee, sophomore Kim Schleif and freshman Camille Flores both went down with ankle injuries and the Alabama contest on Oct. 12 saw senior Allison Harris sprain her ankle and Carlson suffer her injury.
Not only have Arkansas’ starters been lost to injury, the reserves who replaced the starters have also gone down. Claire Hakim who replaced Gwisdala in the starting lineup broke her nose just three games after being given the starting role. The gutsy freshman just getting cleared to play without the hindrance of her face shield.
As a result of Arkansas’ myriad injuries the majority of the Lady Razorback roster has seen playing time and because of that players that may not have had a chance to prove themselves have become starters and significant contributors. Freshman Sam Bolton has been a solid addition to the Lady Razorback defense replacing both Gwisdala and Hakim and started each of the last seven matches. Sophomore Sophie Wentz, a key reserve for Arkansas at midfield at the start of the season has seen playing time at forward, midfield and defender and become a huge part of what the Arkansas coaches are trying to accomplish.
“Sam has been tremendous for us since she took over at defense,” Henderson said. “Sophie has emerged in a different way. She has seen time all over the field as a utility player and that is a wonderful attribute. The experience she is gaining will make her a better player down the road.”
Other players that have had their roles changed this fall include sophomores Kathleen Paulsen and Kylee Mesler and freshmen Camille Flores and Ally Atkins. Paulsen has been a mainstay at center midfield over the past year, but played the first half of Sunday afternoon’s Auburn match at defender to replace Harris. Flores was recruited as a center midfielder and now plays mostly outside while Atkins has moved from forward to outside midfield.
For more information about Lady Razorback soccer or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.