Heber Springs' soccer program has nearly tripled in participation over the past 18 months under the watch of Coach Kathy Larios, who played soccer at the collegiate level at Mercer University and Georgia State.
The program had 80 registered athletes when Larios took over the program. Now, entering the spring season, Heber has over 225 kids involved.
“When I took over the program in 2012 there was around 80 kids in the program,” said Larios. “As of last week when I took numbers there were over 225 kids,” said Larios.
The 225 participants are spread throughout 25 teams and nine age divisions ranging from U4 to U18.
Larios directs one traveling classic team (U12) and two Recreation 2 teams. Larios' classic team, nicknamed the Storm, and all the teams over nine years of age travel around the state playing against top-notch competition.
In order to expand the program even further, Larios plans to provide even more different levels of play, allowing those with highly developed skills to compete against better competition, while still allowing the average soccer player a chance to play in a recreational setting.
The ultimate goal is to have a high school program by 2016.
“We definitely want to expand the program. We are trying to increase our levels where we have classic teams, Rec. 2 programs and we would like to move the Rec. 2 into classic programs to increase our level of play for more numerous players. We would like to have a high school team,” added Larios.
Along with Larios' soccer expertise, the new fields at the Heber Springs Sports Complex helped spark interest amongst both local youth and out of town players.
“It's a nicer facility to play on and we are bringing in more out of town teams. Every weekend we have 5-10 out-of-town teams coming to Heber Springs to play, where before we couldn't draw other teams here. Since taking over in the fall I have all my teams out in the state playing. So anywhere from U9 to U18 is not an in-house program. We play all state level teams,” added Larios.
Larios coaches 13 of the 25 teams registered to play at the Heber Springs Sports Complex, therefore, soccer consumes a lot of her time. However, she also coaches softball.
“My average day on Tuesday and Thursday I hit the field at 1:30 [p.m.] and practice until 9 [p.m.] On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I start at 3 [p.m.] and go until 9 [p.m.],” said Larios.
While playing goalie and various other positions in college, Larios had a chance to evaluate the entire field, which helps her see plays develop as a coach.
“I think it made me see the game as a whole and makes me a better coach because I feel like I understand the players and seeing the field from goal keeper helped me learn to see the whole field. I learned how to get the players in the right position and always playing the ball and attacking instead of sitting back,” added Larios.