At the height of the harvest season, Danny Powell, Hendrix athletic director, is starting to see some first fruits in soccer that he and his staff have sewn.
It’s been a struggle for Hendrix in soccer in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference — few peaks and a lot of valleys. Much of the valleys have been carved by a lack numbers. Over the past several years, the Hendrix teams have finished the season with about 15 players. As a Division III institution, Hendrix cannot offer scholarships exclusively for athletics, so a coach gets whom he can talk into coming out.
WIth some new energy brought in last year by coaches Doug Mello and Jim Evans, the Warriors have made steady progress. Mello was highly successful in a Division III program (Luther College) in Iowa while Evans had coached DI soccer at Hartford College and in DIII at Thomas College.
"These guys both brought a new attitude to soccer here, and coupled with the fact that our field is the best around, our school has lots of momentum, and they are both good coaches and recruiters, I figured we’d turn the corner over time," Powell said.
He has been pleasantly surprised with the program this year. Going into this weekend, the men are 7-5-1 overall and 2-0-1 in the league. The women are 7-4 and 2-2.
Now the perspective to accompany the raw stats.
Prior to winning this season, the Warriors had defeated the Lynx that one time (2002) in 17 attempts. The Warriors followed that up with their first-ever soccer victory over DePauw and a win over Centre, which they had beaten only once since joining the SCAC. The men hadn’t won two league games since 1993.
The women also entered this season with the same record against Rhodes (1-16) and defeated the defending champions 2-0 earlier in the season. Their last three-win conference season was 2003. The Warriors have lost 1-0 matches to DePauw and Centre. Centre won the last one 4-0 (a blowout in soccer). In 2006, DePauw defeated the Hendrix women 7-0, and Hendrix won the men’s match 5-0.
"I always thought we could be a good soccer school," Powell said. "We’ve got some coaches who believe we can do that, and their efforts are showing earlier than I really anticipated. We have a great soccer facility, a great school with a lot of momentum to recruit to, and two coaches see our potential and are able to attract athletes here. They also are both extremely experienced coaches who know how to recruit Division III student-athletes, and they do a good job with them once they’re here."
Mello has brought in about 40 new recruits since he took over at Hendrix. Evans brought in 25 new players in two seasons.
Several of the recruits are from different regions of the country, but Mello has also laid a solid local foundation by getting Connor Silvestri and Dylan Reed off Conway High’s rich program as well as players from state powers such at Little Rock Catholic.
The success goes beyond the field. The men’s soccer team had the best overall academic profile of any of the first-year athletes in the male sports. The 15 freshmen averaged 31 on the ACT and 1289 on the SAT.
"And the same good-student, good-athlete moniker applies to the women’s group," Powell said.
He added, "It’s been fun to watch us progress and our athletes are really having good experiences based on my conversations with them and their parents."
It’s usually fun when seeds start to bud.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)