JONESBORO — Coach Ron Teat looks at the variables involved when he reflects on Valley View’s 2021 boys’ soccer season.
The Blazers were counting on a new goalkeeper in senior David Vanderbilt and a couple of rising stars in Josh Nwokeji and Brandon Southard. They also had strong depth that Teat, mindful of the season-ending gauntlet in the state tournament, was determined to develop.
“It’s hard to explain what this group accomplished just because of all the variables,” Teat said. “We had a new keeper in David Vanderbilt, who had been a backup all his career, to Josh, a freshman coming in, to Brandon Southard, a sophomore who didn’t get to play very much last year and has become a really great player for us. More than anything, it was the buy-in that this team had.
“I played 17 players most games, so there were at least six subs coming off the bench, which means I had seniors having to come off the field. For them to buy into that, knowing they’re not going to play 80 complete minutes, just speaks volumes for the group. It was bigger than just themselves, it was the big picture of what we could do as a team. Could we win the state title?”
Indeed they could.
Shaking off four early losses to Class 6A teams, a segment of the schedule designed as a test, the Blazers went 18-0-1 in their last 19 games. A 3-1 victory over De Queen in the Class 4A state final gave Valley View (20-4-1) its third boys’ state title, all since 2013, and its second in a row.
Teat was voted as the Arkansas High School Coaches Association’s Outstanding Coach in boys’ soccer, and he is the Best Under The Sun Coach of the Year as well. He also led the Valley View girls to the 4A state semifinals and will be close to 500 combined career victories at the start of the 2022 season, holding a 213-79-16 record with the boys’ team since 2008 and a 267-77-13 record since 2006 with the girls’ squad.
The 2021 Blazers were difficult to scout with their depth. Nwokeji led Valley View with 12 goals, followed by junior Zac Rees and senior Hayes Webb with 10 each. Five more Blazers had between 6-9 goals.
Stellar defense was one of the keys for the Blazers, who shut out Berryville in the state quarterfinals before holding Pulaski Robinson and De Queen to one goal each in the last two rounds. Vanderbilt and senior Spencer Dale, the state tournament MVP, helped lead a defense that held opponents to 30 goals all season.
“We were good and deep in the midfield, and we were good defensively. Some of that had to do with taking care of the ball,” Teat said. “Early on in the season we didn’t take care of the ball, but we were playing higher-level competition and it forced us to figure some things out. We took care of our possessions, not turning the ball over a lot in dangerous areas, and even in the state tournament, we were able to play really well defensively versus some of those teams and that’s what carried us, because we did struggle scoring at times.”
Thirteen of the 30 goals yielded by the Blazers came in losses to Springdale Har-Ber, Fayetteville, Conway and Cabot. Conway was the eventual 6A runner-up and Har-Ber reached the semifinals in the state’s largest classification.
Teat said Valley View learned a lot from those games.
“You could go from our first game playing some of those big schools to De Queen, the last game of the year, and we were in a whole different formation,” he added. “We had players who were playing other positions. Some players switched positions. It allowed me to see what works well and what doesn’t.
“If we played teams that didn’t challenge us, maybe I don’t know that and I stick with what we were doing. That’s the whole point of playing tough competition.”
Teat said he won’t change his substitution plan until the Arkansas Activities Association changes the way state tournaments are scheduled. Teams are required to play three games in three days in the first three rounds, followed by the state final the following weekend.
“If you look at it, the two teams in 4A that made it to the finals are the two deepest teams, us and De Queen,” said Teat, who has led the Valley View boys’ team to five state championship games since 2013. “Until the AAA looks at changing it, we’re going to put 17 players on the field, starting the season until the end of the season, because you’re going to need all 17 of them come May. For older kids to buy into that, it is something because it’s not easy.
“Some of those seniors, they were in slumps and they easily could have thought, ‘Coach is pulling me out because I’m not playing well,’ but those seniors stepped up when it was time to step up, which was the state tournament, and lead us. You could tell they had been there before.”