River Valley soccer report

Kari Carter, Fort Smith Northside girls soccer team playing well

Fort Smith Northside's Kari Carter and the Lady Bears soccer team are off to a strong start to the 2024 season.
(River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
Fort Smith Northside's Kari Carter and the Lady Bears soccer team are off to a strong start to the 2024 season. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

FORT SMITH -- After a breakout season last year as an underclassman, the Fort Smith Northside girls soccer team had high expectations for junior forward Kari Carter this year. Consider those forecasts surpassed.

Carter has again been a huge part of the Lady Bears' success this year. Behind her playmaking, Northside rattled off a seven-game winning streak to start the season before falling to defending Class 6A champion Bentonville. Carter has flashed her ability to score early and often with two-goal games against North Little Rock, Jonesboro Westside and Poteau, Okla., in a scrimmage to start the season.

"Kari Carter is definitely a game changer," Fort Smith Northside girls soccer Coach Mauricio Maciel said. "And as long as we keep giving her opportunities in front of goal, she will score many more goals for us. We are definitely lucky to have her."

Carter won River Valley Democrat-Gazette Player of the Year honors last year in an explosive season as a first-year starter. She totaled 18 goals with three assists helping the Lady Bears to a 9-6-2 overall record. When it mattered most, Carter delivered for Northside with two state tournament goals, including the game-winner against Conway in a thriller at Mayo-Thompson Stadium.

While Carter has played outstanding early in the season, senior forward Liset Vallejo returning from injury has been a key reinforcement and a consistent scorer for the Lady Bears. Vallejo scored the game-winning goal to help Northside down 6A state tournament runner-up Fayetteville in a 1-0 victory earlier this month. Vallejo also had a hat trick in a victory over Marion and was awarded the golden boot for most goals scored during the Marion tournament.

"Liset Vallejo was out last year due to an injury," Maciel said. "But she has worked really hard to not only overcome her injury but to be fit and polish her skills to be where she is at now playing at a very good level for us. She is not only a great player but also a solid student in the classroom."

Freshman sparks Van Buren

The future and the past of the Van Buren boys soccer program are colliding this season with the addition of freshman forward Steven Valente, who has made an impact right away for the Pointers.

He has scored 13 goals this season with back-to-back hat tricks just last week in conference wins over Alma and Harrison to improve the team's record to 5-1-1 (3-0 5A-West). The Pointers have scored 38 goals in their initial seven games, and Valente's creativity has been a huge part of it.

It hasn't been a big surprise to Van Buren boys soccer Coach Nathan Almond that Valente has played so well in his first varsity season though. Almond knows well his soccer bloodline is strong, and this isn't the first time a Valente has been a critical contributor for the Pointers.

"He is really playing well and learning quickly," Almond said of Valente. "It helps that his dad, Azael Valente, was a starter on my 2006 state championship team. I think Azael knew how I wanted the game to be played and prepared Steven for it. His learning curve was different than most freshmen. He is a humble kid that works hard, and I do not believe he has reached his ceiling yet."

Clarksville seeks additional crown

After playing key roles in winning the 4A-West Conference in each of the past three seasons, the seniors of the Clarksville boys soccer team have a goal to finish strong in their careers. It got off to a good start with a 6-1 victory Thursday over Huntsville to open league play 1-0.

"As far as conference play, we are super excited to begin," Clarksville boys soccer Coach Bryan Qualls said. "We know we have a really strong conference with a lot of experienced players and coaches from our area. Coach Lud Elizondo and Coach Aaron Plugge are so helpful to me and our soccer program. They have worked really hard getting the boys ready for conference play. We have a record number of ninth grade boys this year and we have some experienced upperclassmen to help show the way."

The Panthers are guided by one of the best goalkeepers in the state in senior Juan De La Rosa, who was the River Valley Democrat-Gazette Player of the Year a season ago. Israel De La Rosa and Sah Htoo, among others, have been key scoring threats for Clarksville (3-3-1).

Mavs maintain progress

Once you get momentum on your side while rebuilding a program, you want to keep it on your side. Fort Smith Southside boys soccer Coach Mahmoud Ihmeidan knows that well after a breakout season for the Mavericks last year making the playoffs for the first time since 2019.

"It's not been too bad this year," Ihmeidan said. "We are trying different lineups and personnel to see what works before we start the tough conference play. We lost some starters from last year, but other guys have stepped up. I tell my guys all year whoever gets a chance to play, you have to take advantage of it. We trust our guys. We want to build on what we did last year. The boys are getting excited."

The Mavericks have been guided this year by Greyson York, Tino Le, Jude Daniels and Evan Nobles, among others.

The season ramps up quickly next week with the beginning of league play that includes a big game Friday against rival Fort Smith Northside, which Southside beat for the first time since 2012 last season.

Northside bounces back

If it could go wrong last year for the Fort Smith Northside boys soccer team, it unfortunately did for the Grizzlies. A year that started with state title aspirations ended by missing the state tournament. But it's been a quick turnaround for Northside this season already off to a 4-1-2 record to start the year overcoming the odds.

Northside took down a tournament in Little Rock early in the season and hasn't slowed down much after that. Bryan Lopez, Ivan Mendez, Christian Franco, Jose Armijo, Jose Perez, Michael Trinidad, Alex Chavez and Anthony Barroso have all stepped up to score goals this season.

"I am very proud of them," Maciel said. "Despite having a small senior class, they are showing a lot more maturity and are playing better together. If we stay focused and keep working hard, we can definitely be back to the playoffs this year."

Northside opens 6A-West conference play next week hosting Rogers on Tuesday and crosstown rival Fort Smith Southside on Friday.

Lady Bulldogs continue success

Players and roles have shifted a bit for the Greenwood girls soccer team this season, but the goal is still the same: make the state tournament. The Lady Bulldogs did just that last year for the first time in five seasons and have built on that foundational success so far this year off to a 3-4 (2-3 5A-West) start. They capped off this week with a 1-0 win at Mountain Home.

"We still have the bulk of the season to play and are improving each week," Greenwood girls soccer Coach Andrew Post said. "With some players in new positions, it does take some time for the team to build chemistry and begin to mesh. I believe last year the team came together and began playing good soccer at a good time in the season that helped us secure a playoff spot. This team isn't playing its best soccer just yet, but we will get there and I am confident we will contend for the playoffs again this season."

Ally Thomas and Abbey Gatesman have been the top attacking options for Greenwood. Gracyn Newcity and Lindah Bartok have led the way on the backline helping out first-year starting goalkeeper Alyssa Sharp.

Bulldogs remain hungry

The Greenwood boys soccer team has knocked on the door of making a state tournament berth year after year but have fallen just short in the loaded 5A-West. The Bulldogs now hope this year they are able to open the door this time around for a breakthrough season.

"We've finished fifth in this 'conference of death' every season I have been here," Greenwood boys soccer Coach Tyler Woods said. "We have always been right there. Our guys believe we can earn a playoff berth this year and are working hard to make it happen. We have some work to do, but we have a chance again."

Greenwood is off to a 6-4-1 (1-3-1 5A-West) record this year, which includes a five-game winning streak early in the season. Impact players so far include Hudson Meeker, Landon Franklin, Tucker Wooten, DJ Coggin, Kaleb Marsico, Braycen Austin, Peyton Presson, Brandon Coston, Alex Pittman and Bodey Steinfeldt. The team has battled adversity losing senior Carson Hobbs to injury but hope to get him back before the season is finished.

Lady Mavs building culture

The youth movement is in full effect for the Fort Smith Southside girls soccer team after finishing 6-11 (1-8 6A-West) last year, but the results have been positive so far for the Lady Mavericks with a 3-4-1 beginning.

"With this year, we are just trying to rebuild and establish a culture with the team," Fort Smith Southside assistant coach Jesse Garcia said. "It's a young group. We have a lot of learning to do coming off the season we had last year. We are just looking to continue to improve as a team."

Southside has been guided by freshman Bre Gutierrez, sophomore Rosalie Allen, sophomore Sydney Lomeli and sophomore goalkeeper Malea Seubold, who is returning from injury last year and missed most of the season.

Extra points

The Alma girls soccer team took down rival Van Buren 3-2 last week for its first league win of the season after finishing 0-14 in conference play last year. ... The Clarksville girls soccer team, which had a three-game winning streak earlier this month, celebrated Carley Garcia recently signing to play at the next level at the University of the Ozarks. ... The Subiaco Academy soccer team is off to a 1-2 start to the season looking to build on winning state tournament games in each of the past two seasons. ... The Alma boys soccer team continues to make progress with two wins already this year, surpassing last year's victory total.

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