Sports

After a Long Time Off the Field, JBU Soccer Back to Winning

In February, soccer made its highly-anticipated return to John Brown University’s campus. While both the men and women’s teams have successful programs, no one knew how they would perform after spending such a long time away from the field, as neither team had played NAIA soccer since November 2019. In the offseason, the men lost their head coach, Brenton Benware, who led the program for three seasons, after he resigned to take the position of Director of Soccer Operations at Asheville Christian Academy in North Carolina. Benware left JBU with a 34-21-4 record, including a 17-4-1 season in 2019, leaving first-year Head Coach Chris Cole with big shoes to fill.

Despite all the obstacles that faced both teams, fans still had high expectations. In September 2020, the JBU men were chosen to repeat as SAC Champions in the conference’s preseason poll, taking five first-place votes and three second-place votes. The women were also chosen to be among the SAC’s elite, placing second in the preseason poll, with two first-place votes and six second-place votes.

The Golden Eagles opened their season on Feb. 23 against Southwestern Christian, and it was the start of both JBU teams going on fairly separate paths throughout the first few weeks of the season. The JBU women immediately made an impact, defeating every team in their path and leaving the vast majority of them off the scoreboard, including USAO—the only team picked ahead of JBU in the SAC Preseason Poll—at Alumni Field on Feb. 27. Meanwhile, the JBU men struggled to take off, dropping their first three matches, and only collecting one win overall in the season’s first two weeks.

The second half of March fared much better for the men, as they proceeded to win four of their last five in the regular season, including an 8-1 thrashing of Texas Wesleyan in the regular season finale on March 27. The run scored JBU a #5 seed in the SAC Tournament and a date with Wayland Baptist in Lubbock, Texas. The JBU women maintained their dominance, leaving every opponent they faced in the month of March off the scoreboard en route to a regular season conference title and a #1 seed for the SAC Tournament.

The JBU men ultimately avenged their early-season loss to Wayland Baptist in the first round of the tournament, defeating the Pioneers 1-0 before their season ended, as a result of a 3-2 loss at Alumni Field to Central Christian, the tournament’s #8 seed, in the semifinals. This put JBU’s final record at 6-5-1, including 5-4 in SAC play. It was the team’s third straight winning season, and the team’s late-season run could potentially be a sign of things to come for the Golden Eagles under Coach Cole. Jacob Zamarron, led the team in goals with 11, his per-game average being good enough for fourth in the conference, while Alonso Arrieta led the conference in assists per game. Zamarron and Oscar Carballo were both selected to All-Conference first team.

The JBU women kept the momentum alive throughout the conference tournament, defeating Wayland Baptist and Oklahoma City before winning the tournament championship over USAO. This win marked the third SAC Tournament title under Head Coach Kathleen Paulsen and the team’s first since 2016. The undefeated Golden Eagles then proceeded to host the opening round of the NAIAs, where they stringed together victories over Baker and Oklahoma Wesleyan to advance to the next round in Foley, Alabama.

Sienna Carballo has led the way for, perhaps, Coach Paulsen’s most dominant team at JBU, as Carballo earned the SAC Player of the Year award. In total, seven Golden Eagles took home awards, including Ryan Winingham’s selection as Freshman of the Year and senior Caitlyn Logan’s selection as Goalkeeper of the Year for a third consecutive time. Carballo leads the team in goals at this point in the season with 12, while Winingham is close behind at 10, and Paige Kula leads the Sooner Athletic Conference in assists per game.

The 14-0 Golden Eagles will look to extend their deep postseason run when they take on Central Methodist on Tuesday, April 27 at 1 p.m.