Connor Silvestri, who pretty much cut his teeth on defense from his first days of playing soccer, was surprised when he showed up at Hendrix College and coach Doug Mello asked him to play middle forward, an offensive position.

"But I didn’t care where I played; I just wanted to win," he said. "I hate losing more than I like winning."

Silvestri completed his soccer career as the Warriors’ all-time leading scorer, setting the mark his sophomore season, then reclaiming it after Duncan Keegan broke it last year.

The senior from Conway obviously adjusted well.

"On defense, everything is in front of you," he said. "You see the whole field so the passes are simple passes in front of you. At forward, you have to be aware of what is behind you and the passes are more creative.

"At the same time, it helped to have played my whole high school career on defense because I knew what defensive players hated; I knew some things that messed them up the most."

During his career, Silvestri, who was part of some of the most successful high school teams in the state at Conway High, was a major part of the most successful era of Hendrix soccer in NCAA Division III. The Warriors set a school record with 10 victories and eight shutouts last season.

It was what old Conway teammate Dylan Reed and former Catholic High rival Grant Womack envisioned when they arrived on campus.

"We seniors wanted to start a program," he said. "We wanted to change the program, not just do well one year and go down the next year."

A large part of that has been due to Mello, who was recently awarded a Letter of Commendation by the National Soccer Coaches of America for longtime contributions to soccer. During his 25-year career at various institutions, Mello has guided teams to 707 victories and has been a part of 1,141 contests, an NCAA record.

"He made us love the sport and that’s the main reason I’m still playing soccer," Silvestri said. "I didn’t want to hate soccer when I left college.

"He (Mello) builds chemistry. We love playing for each other. He emphasized the bigger picture that winning is more important than awards or a starting position. We played a lot of teams that were more talented. We fought for each other. No one wanted to let each other down."

Now, it’s on to dental school at the University of Tennessee in Memphis.

"My mother is a hygenist, but I didn’t think I wanted to do that, then I did a job shadow in high school. Then, I went on a mission trip the summer after my freshman year and worked with a team of surgeons and I decided that’s really wanted I wanted to do. Everybody we came across had issues and I like the chance to specialize in helping save lives. It’s a chance to serve."

He plans to go into general dentistry.

And he’ll be reunited with an old friend, Duncan Keegan, who is in medical school in Memphis.

"He told me that they have a men’s club league and he’s already signed me up for the team," Silvestrio said. "Half of the players have played in Division I and he’s leading the league in scoring. It will be fun."

(David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or