Boys soccer team overcomes backline injuries as Bulldogs chase state title


Bearden celebrates a goal in its 5-0 win over Hardin Valley earlier this year.

For any average soccer team, the injury bug hitting the backline of their formation would ruin a season and put a halt to any aspiration of competing for a trophy at the end of the season.

The 2023 Bearden Bulldogs aren’t any average soccer team, though.

The Bulldogs (11-0-3) have had to roll out many different variations of their starting 11 this season, something that Coach Ryan Radcliffe believes has benefited his team.

The Bulldogs wrap up the regular season at rival Farragut this Friday night at 7:30 before they advance to postseason play.

“Whether fortunately or unfortunately, we have had a lot of dudes that have played in the backline throughout the season,” Radcliffe said. “Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game, but they have allowed for us to develop depth and give us assurance that we aren’t going to lose a step if we have a player out for whatever reason.”

Those injuries are on top of the fact that Bearden had to replace half of the back line that started in last year’s state championship game due to graduating seniors.

The injuries that some of the older players have faced throughout the year have forced some younger players into bigger roles, and some guys into bigger leadership roles, such as junior center back Shepeard McMurray.

“Since I am one of the returning starters from last season I think I naturally was put in a leadership spot, but with all the injuries, I have definitely seen myself become a better leader,” McMurray said. “I see the whole field at all times, so I have to take leadership in helping communicate and explain things to my teammates.”

The Bulldogs are undefeated in the regular season with one game remaining, which is an incredible feat for a team that plays such a difficult schedule. The Bulldogs play in District 4-AAA (widely considered one of the toughest soccer districts in the state of Tennessee) and an incredibly rigorous non-district schedule.

“In my opinion, we play in the toughest district in the state, so you have to be purposeful in your scheduling as a coach to prepare your team to face that,” Radcliffe said. “It’s been brutal on the team, but I think it just speaks volumes as to where we are as a program and the state of high school soccer in Tennessee.”

Throughout the season, a motivating factor for the team, especially the seniors, has been the losses in the past two state championship games. The Bulldogs lost to Houston in 2021 and Brentwood in 2022.

Senior midfielder/right back Eric Freudenberg was a member of both of those state runner-up teams and is eager to take the final step this year.

“Coming so close the last two years and coming away with nothing was definitely hard on us,” Freudenberg said. “The desire for a state championship has definitely been a driving force for the team because none of us want to leave the state championship field with the same taste of defeat we have had in previous years.”

Radcliffe knows what he needs out of his team as they approach postseason play.

“I just want for them to keep growing as a team,” Radcliffe said. “We are all aware that we aren’t playing our best soccer, and we need to be with the level of competition we will face in the postseason.”