Lady'Back Soccer Kicking In

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas heads into tonight's soccer match against Southwest Missouri State with a 1-1 record, including a 1-0 home win against Tulsa on Sunday -- its first victory against the Golden Hurricane in 10 years.

"Last week was a mixed bag, as opening weeks usually are," said first-year UA coach Gordon Henderson. "We struggled with control on artificial turf at Southeast Missouri and lost 3-2, then came back and played pretty well against Tulsa. This weekend offers a very big test."

Henderson said he was surprised at the extent of his players' celebration after the Tulsa game.

"It shows how far they've come," he said. "It was a major step, because last year Tulsa had five or six good scoring chances (against Arkansas in a 2-1 win).

"We just met our first team goal. We've had our lockers re-done, but I told the players they would have no nameplates until our first win."

The downside is that a couple of Lady'Backs have been shaken up. Andrea Sparks, a junior from Arlington, Texas, is out for this weekend with a concussion and sophomore Christina Burger is at "85 percent" effectiveness with a strained knee.

Burger and her sister, Devon, of Southlake, Texas, are twins who compete with each other to make the team better, Henderson said.

"They raise the bar for the rest of the team," he said.

Henderson said Arkansas' 4-4-2 zone alignment is still a work in progress.

"This zone thing is new to them," he said. "It's still got some bugs. It's a big learning curve. It takes national teams 18 months to learn it sometimes. We went to it because we're not as fast as some of the Southeastern Conference teams."

The plus is that Tulsa had only a handful of shots on goal, with just three on frame.

"Defense is where we want to start," Henderson said. "It's the building brick from where you move forward. We've got to stop giving up that first goal or two in SEC games."

Henderson joked that he had bags under his eyes from looking at so much game tape from last season, when Arkansas went 3-6 in the SEC and 7-10-2 overall.

But the Lady'Backs have come a long way since then.

"There's a big change in attitude," Henderson said. "After the Tulsa game, our players clearly felt they were the fitter team. That's a validation for the many hours of running they've done. In the past, they had lapses in games and did silly things."

Henderson said Southwest Missouri State would provide the same sort of stiff test as Southeast Missouri.

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