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Top hat: Three-goal game by Will Childers nets Conway back-to-back 6A boys soccer titles

Russellville also repeats as 5A state champion after holding off Hot Springs Lakeside, 1-0

By Buck Ringgold | Photos by Abigail Weihe 

CONWAY - Will Childers picked up a hat trick - and even more hardware.

Childers, Conway’s senior standout forward, turned in another strong performance in a Class 6A state championship game. He accounted for all three of the Wampus Cats’ goals, including the game-winner with 5:17 remaining, as Conway repeated as 6A boys soccer champions with a 3-2 win against Springdale Friday afternoon at Estes Stadium.

“It means the world to me,” Childers said. “My sophomore year, we played this Springdale team and lost to them in the state championship, and so this game meant so much to me.”

A year ago, Childers - named the game’s MVP - tallied two of Conway’s three goals in a win against Fort Smith Northside for the 6A title, also earning him MVP honors. While that win last season was satisfying enough, Childers was really looking forward to Friday, and getting redemption from two years ago.

But while they did pay the Bulldogs back from that tough loss in 2021, Childers couldn’t decide which championship game win from either his junior or senior season was really his personal best.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Last year, that was our rivals, but for me, this game may have been more satisfying going out my senior year. I don’t know, they were both (great) games.”

Childers, though, really liked the ending to Friday’s match, as did the rest of the Wampus Cats.

With the score even at 2-all near the five-minute mark, Childers had a breakaway attempt after Springdale’s goalkeeper got out of position. But Childers slipped on the turf and was unable to connect, as Springdale defender Saul Acosta sprinted in front of the net to deflect away the shot.

Seconds later, however, Childers got another chance from a short distance. This time, he found the back of the net as he promptly darted to the Conway sideline to celebrate with his teammates.

“I got a (pass) from my teammate, Lincoln Parker, and then the goalkeeper almost collided with our feet for the ball and I guess my foot won,” Childers said. “The ball came right to me and I slipped, and I tried to kick it and then the defender came out and he blocked it on an open goal.

“But then, (the ball) went up and my friend, Tyson Turnage, he went and won a header, and then the ball came to me. It was open, the goalkeeper was out and I just tried to hit it and it went in the back of the net, so I was pretty happy with that, I had to redeem myself from earlier.”

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Conway coach Matthew Page knew was Childers was capable of doing, regardless of the situation.

“I think he’s the best player in the state, no matter what classification,” Page said. “The kid is just a gamer, he’s going to be around the ball. It’s not always pretty goals, but you’ve got to find a way to score and that’s what he did again (Friday).

“He’s got 35 goals for the year and 13 assists, and he’s just an unselfish player all around. … He can score at any time and at any point he wants to.”

Childers’ hat trick put Conway (20-3) ahead to stay. Wampus Cat senior goalkeeper Jackson Tucker helped save the win by coming up with a save moments after Childers’ go-ahead goal.

“The ball was floating around the box a little bit and their guy got a good shot up,” Tucker said. “It was a little floater, it probably was going to go top corner, but I was able to get there and take it over the crossbar.

“Nothing except maybe one or two shots was pretty strenuous, but my back line helped me out a lot there.”

Springdale (12-3-3) had one final chance inside the last minute, but a shot attempt from Yeferson Tobar - who had one of the Bulldogs’ goals - sailed just over the crossbar. Soon thereafter, the Wampus Cats were able to celebrate another title, and in front of their hometown fans.

“Coming into the season, we didn’t talk a lot about winning a conference championship, we didn’t talk about winning Senior Night, we talked about winning another state championship,” Page said. “That was on our mind from day one until now, to get back here and then if we got in, we know we had a chance.”

The score was tied at 1-all at halftime after both teams cashed in on penalty kicks. Childers got his penalty kick with 22:34 left in the first half, sticking his shot into the back left corner.

Just barely more than two minutes later, Springdale evened things up when Fernando Avila got his own penalty kick opportunity and drilled it into the right corner.

With six minutes elapsed in the second half, Childers got his second goal of the day, off a free kick, to put Conway back in front, 2-1. That score stood until there was 20:43 left, when the Bulldogs tied things up once more, as Tobar found the left corner.

Tucker wasn’t on the Wampus Cat team that lost to Springdale for the title two seasons ago. He transferred to Conway that offseason from nearby school St. Joseph, and since then, was part of two title-winning squads.

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But Tucker stopped short, though, when asked if he was considered perhaps the “missing link” to the Wampus Cats’ championship hopes.

“I don’t like to say that, I do think I was a key factor in this team, but again, we’re so well-rounded,” said Tucker, who will be playing next season at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

“We’ve got Will, who scores 35 goals this year, we’ve got other guys scoring double-digit goals, and we mesh really well together. But it is good to have a guy like me back there, especially in a game like this.”

Childers will also be playing soccer at the next level, as he plans to go to Ouachita Baptist University. While he did have a hard time determining which championship-winning performance was his best, Childers admitted nothing can really beat Friday’s ending.

“I don’t know if there’s a better feeling than that,” he said. “In the state championship, to finish a hat trick with a (winning) goal to finish off Springdale, nothing beats it, it’s amazing.”

Class 5A boys soccer state champion Russellville 

Class 5A boys soccer state champion Russellville 

Class 5A Boys Soccer State Championship

Russellville 1, Hot Springs Lakeside 0

The Cyclones got a goal 10 minutes into Friday’s 5A title match and made that stand, as they went on to repeat as state champions.

That lone goal was scored by junior Jett Bull off a header with 29:58 showing on the clock in the opening half. Alex Bonilla was credited with the assist.

“We had it drawn back to him, and I raised my hand and asked (Bonilla) for the ball, and luckily, he saw me and played a great ball in,” said Bull, named the game's MVP afterward. “The ball was better than the placement; all credit to (Bonilla) for putting it in and I guess I just finished it off and we got to celebrate, and here we are.”

Russellville junior Jett Bull was named the MVP of the 5A title game

Russellville junior Jett Bull was named the MVP of the 5A title game

The game then turned into a showdown between both teams’ goalkeepers, the Cyclones’ Brian Moreno and the Rams’ Connor Sims, each of whom turned in several saves.

But Moreno literally saved his best for last. With 1:30 left, a Lakeside attempt sailed toward the goal, but Moreno dived on his stomach to come up with the ball.

Then with time running out, a ball from around the right corner was speared by Moreno, who collided with his teammate, Jonathon Martinez. Both players were momentarily shaken up, and Martinez left the field, but was able to walk off on his own power and joined in the Cyclones’ celebration when time finally expired.

“Brian Moreno played amazing and really stepped up (Friday), making incredible saves, communicating with the defense, telling them where they should slide to,” Bull said. “He was just being the keeper he needs to be, and he did (Friday).”

The Cyclones now are determined to put together a “three-peat” for next season.

“I’m hoping so; we’re going to push for it,” Bull said. “We’re going to get to work this offseason and we’re going to try to make it happen.”