Boys competing in Georgetown tournament, girls taking part in Kennedale event

A former Howard Payne Yellow Jacket is back in Brownwood to lead both the Lions and Lady Lions soccer programs in 2018, as the regular seasons for both squads begin Thursday.

Brent Hardwick is taking over the reins of both programs, as the Lions start their campaign at the Georgetown tournament while the Lady Lions compete at the Kennedale tournament.

Hardwick's coaching background includes assisting the Yellow Jackets during their first postseason campaign in 2009, a stint at China Spring as head boys coach, and this past fall he assisted with the Lady Jackets program.

"I'm excited to be here, to be part of the program and to help them grow and develop," said Hardwick, who welcomes the challenge of being in charge of both programs. "It's a good challenge to have. I live and breathe soccer so it's fine. It's my passion and why I'm here. The challenge would have to be the amount of hours you have to put in to be successful. Working with two different programs, the boys practice early in the morning and in the afternoons after school the girls practice."

Assistant coach Scott Swanzy will be leading the Lions in the Georgetown tournament, while Hardwick will coach the Lady Lions in Kennedale. Aside from this weekend, however, the Lions and Lady Lions schedules are compatible.

"The only conflict is the first tournament," Hardwick said. "We're double booked, but we both had to get another tournament in and this was the only way it could work."

The Lady Lions, coming off an 11-10 season and third straight trip to the regional quarterfinals, face Wichita Falls Hirschi at 11:30 a.m. and Kennedale at 4 p.m Thursday, Paris at 2:30 p.m. Friday and Bryan Rudder at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Players to watch for the Lady Lions include Taylar Kinzler, Madison Chesser, Channing Baron and varsity newcomer Aleyia Cotton.

"Taylar is a dynamic player, a good midfielder that played defense last year but we're going to push her up and she'll have a larger role in the attack as well," Hardwick said. "Madison is a senior and will be a really good player for us, and Channing's a good goal keeper, real solid and makes good decisions.

"We have a good core group of upperclassmen, the junior class is big, we have a few seniors and then a good sized freshmen group," Hardwick said. "We want to maintain what they were able to do last year and see if we can have a better year and get a little further."

Standing in the Lady Lions' way, however, is District 34-4A rival and defending state champion Stephenville.

"We have to get past Stephenville, but that's exciting," Hardwick said. "I'd rather play in a hard district than an easy district. Two years ago they graduated 16 seniors and then they came out last year and won state. I didn't see that coming at all, it was quite impressive."

But Hardwick feels the Lady Lions' have the potential for a similar performance.

"The sky's the limit for the girls," he said. "We're pretty deep in the talent level and we have the potential to make this season special."

The Lions, coming off a 1-16-1 season that included a coaching change midway through, tangle with New Summerfield at 4 p.m. Thursday, Lockhart at noon Friday and Salado at 4 p.m. Saturday in their initial action of the season.

"The guys have done an exceptional job of putting everything behind them and are starting fresh," Hardwick said in regard to last year's trying season both on and off the field. "We're relatively young. We don't have that many seniors but a lot of freshmen and sophomores which enables us to have a JV which is something Brownwood hasn't had for a while."

Among the key returnees for the Lions are Brandon Bushnell and Zack Smith.

"Brandon is an up top goal scorer, a really good player," Hardwick said. "Zack is a midfielder to keep an eye on, a really dynamic player. He was a center back last year that we're going to push up the field and get a little closer to the goal to make things happen for us offensively."

Coming off a one-win season and with such a young roster, Hardwick is taking a wait and see approach to how the season progresses.

"It's going to be a tough battle for us but I think we can be successful," Hardwick said. "Grow and develop is the theme for this year and then see where the chips may fall. But I definitely think we'll be competitive and improve on the season we had last year. We understand what we have in front of us, good teams in district and in tournaments as we try to get ready for a postseason push."