Last season during Spring Fling — May 28 to be exact — Bearden High School’s boys soccer team made the state title game, but fell 2-1 to Memphis Houston after leading 1-0.
Bulldogs head coach Ryan Radcliffe said he’s confident his team can take the final step this year and bring Radcliffe his third boys state title since he became head coach in 2013 — fourth overall. His Lady Bulldogs won the state title last fall. Radcliffe was part of Bearden’s state title team as a star player in 2006.
With last week’s 9-0 District-clinching (4-3A) thrashing of William Blount, Bearden improved to 10-1-3 overall, 5-0-1 in the district. It’s lone loss was 2-1 to Webb.
Radcliffe thinks that, because of injuries, his squad hasn’t reached its peak yet.
“It’s been up and down,” he said. “We haven’t been healthy a lot of this season. It’s been a slow process to get everybody back. Hopefully we’re hitting a stretch where we’re playing our best soccer.”
A further challenge, Radcliffe said, has been a difficult schedule because of the new district in which the TSSAA placed the Bulldogs.
“Being in the new district with Farragut, Maryville, Hardin Valley … it was intentional scheduling to put us in tests early to challenge us,” the coach said. “Get us used to big-time environments and big games.”
With its only district blemish a scoreless tie with Hardin Valley, Bearden has weathered the redistricting storm very well. Through the Blount match, the Bulldogs had outscored their opponents 50-8. Seven times opponents were shut out.
Junior forward Lucas Nordin leads the team with 17 goals. A pair of senior midfielders — Dylan Kolnick and Julian Strickland — also have been key to Bearden’s success.
“All three are all-state potential,” Radcliffe said. “Two of them (Nordin and Strickland) are returning All-state. “A lot of experience. Lucas is a tremendous athlete.”
“Dylan’s been outstanding in the middle, doing everything we need. He and Julian are both captains,” he added. “Julian is returning Player of the Year in our district.”
Leading BHS in assists is Ethan Ford with nine. Nordin has six. Marcus Bishop, Ethan Shaw and Logan Nelson make up a trio of stingy goalkeepers. All have shutouts to their credit.
“With the returns we have we are (confident),” Radcliffe said. “There are a lot of expectations, but at the same time we know how difficult just our district is, and our region. In our area, some people say just getting out of Knoxville is like winning the state championship. ... With 14 seniors, there’s a lot of eagerness to not let the season end early and to win the state championship.”