Who’s number one in girls area high school soccer?
There’s no shortage of contenders as the 2013 season gets under way this week, even though Lawrence County is stocked with returners from last year’s team that reached the Elite Eight.
The 15th Region champs knocked off 16th Region winner Ashland 2-0 in the opening round of the State Tournament despite being outshot 28-7.
Ashland, East Carter and Rowan County — the 16th Region’s three district champions in 2012 — along with region mainstay Russell are expected to challenge Lawrence County for area supremacy.
Overall, Russell coach Joe Grizzle forecasts a bright season for area soccer.
“Everybody lost two or three players, but there’s a lot of experience back,” he said. “That’s what’s going to make it so interesting. Everybody just keeps getting better. Soccer is just starting to thrive. A lot of the girls are playing on different select teams.”
Lawrence County’s program continues to be on the rise under the direction of third-year head coach Brett Jenks.
The team took a major step last season by going 22-3-1, winning its region and then getting past Ashland in Louisa.
Jenks said it will be difficult to duplicate last year’s success, but added that the Lady Bulldogs are focused for the task as they take on a tougher schedule.
“We want to make it back to the State Tournament for a second straight year,” Jenks said. “We are returning a fantastic group, including the area’s leading scorer.”
Junior forward Shelby Hay, a second team All-State selection, scored 51 goals last season. Midfielder Mollie Workman also enjoyed a big sophomore year with 36 goals and 16 assists. The 15th Region Tournament’s Most Valuable Player scored both goals in the team’s State Tournament win over Ashland.
Defensively, young goalkeeper Catherine Clay wasted no time establishing herself as a shot-stopper. She had 13 shutouts in her first high school season.
Jenks called sophomore fullback/midfielder Skylar Chapman one of the best defenders in the area. Senior captains Ashley Puryear and Brooke Spillman bring experience to the defense, while Jenks looks for big things from junior midfielder Ashleigh Adkins after an ankle injury last year.
Lawrence County is off to a 2-0 start, most recently defeating Montgomery County 1-0 in Louisa on Tuesday.
The Lady Bulldogs go on the road to play Harrison County and Villa Madonna on Aug. 31. Jenks will also bring his team to the Poage Landing Days Tournament, including a doubleheader against Russell and Ashland on Sept. 14.
Ashland returns a solid nucleus from its 16-7-4 team that beat Russell in the 63rd District final and took down East Carter for the 16th Region title. Area Player of the Year Charity Collins and her All-Area teammates Aidan Young and Emily Bond are back to spearhead the repeat bid.
Collins totaled 32 goals and eight assists as a sophomore in earning second team All-State honors.
A healthy Young figures to give the LadyCats a boost after she missed a large chunk of last season due to injury. Young has taken to her new role at forward, scoring four goals in Ashland’s season-opening 8-0 win at Greenup County.
“Aidan is big, strong and fast with good skill,” coach E.B. Lowman said. “Playing up top put her in the attacking mindset.”
The defense lost two starters, but seniors Bond and Caroline Fannin return there. Two other seniors, Emily Davis and Rachel Redman, are also in the defensive mix.
Jenna Cook is settling in at defensive center midfielder, while Kayla Brown could be a factor at midfield. Both are sophomores.
“While we’re young, I think we will be OK,” Lowman said. “Last year’s group amazed me.”
Eleven freshmen account for nearly half of the LadyCats’ 2013 roster. Several are expected to contribute, beginning with Jamie Downey, Jessica Hunley, Madeline Garner, Haylee Greene, Riley Neill and Hannah Reese.
Downey and Neill, along with Jamie’s senior sister, Megan, could all see playing time at goalkeeper.
“I think we will be stronger in the goal this year,” Lowman said. “The freshmen have got to learn, but in the process we will get better as the year goes on. I’m optimistic.”
At Russell, Grizzle’s soccer head coaching workload has been cut in half this season. He’s coaching only the girls team after guiding both varsity programs for the past five years. Marty Torgrimson is the new boys coach.
While Grizzle enjoyed his time pulling double duty, he’s feeling rejuvenated after returning to his former role as girls coach.
“It’s so much different,” Grizzle said. “I know I have more energy and don’t get as tired and worn out. Plus, I think the girls needed someone to focus just on them. Hopefully they will reap the benefits of it.”
Grizzle’s squad holds high hopes with most of the starters back, plus the addition of talented transfer Cara Maher.
“We have a lot of experienced, returning players and some new talent,” Grizzle said. “Overall, there is good speed and knowledge of the game throughout.”
Maher joins a lineup that also includes seniors Heather Hencye (forward), Jalyn Forsyth (goalkeeper), Kodie Patrick (fullback), Jennifer Sloan (center back) and Brooke Fowler (center midfielder); juniors Shelby Huddleston (center back), Lexie Frisby (forward) and Alexis McMonigal (fullback); and sophomore outside midfielders Hollie Hencye and Morgan Vonderheide.
Russell began the season Tuesday with a 10-0 victory over Boyd County as Maher, a junior, supplied four goals and an assist.
“Cara moved in here last year from Scott County about midway through our season, so this year she has been a very welcome member of the team,” Grizzle said. “Everybody likes her. She’s a tough competitor.”
Maher quickly found a home at center midfielder. Heather Hencye, an All-Area pick last year, shifted to forward to fill the void left by the graduation of first team All-Stater Ashley Huffine.
East Carter, region runner-up last season after winning the title in 2011, will be trying to reclaim the top spot with a veteran team and new head coach.
Two-year assistant Ryan Knipp takes over for Ben Fritz, who stepped down after a successful run as girls and boys coach to become assistant principal at ECHS.
Knipp hopes to carry on the Lady Raiders’ fine tradition. The team’s senior group, led by midfielders Macy Dyer and Taylor Burnett, defender Amber Hall and goalkeeper Starr Caldwell, has won 48 games and played in three consecutive region finals.
East Carter finished 17-2-1 last year.
Knipp pointed to senior leadership and experience as team strengths. The Lady Raiders open a new season tonight at Boyd County.
Rowan County went 14-4-4 a year ago and won the 61st District title. All-Area selection Ally Hackney (20 goals, 18 assists) and 16-goal scorer Deanna May are back to lead the attack while senior Kara Lewis anchors the defense.
“Our strength will be our depth,” said third-year coach Randy Wallace. “We have a number of players at each position. We look forward to having a successful season and being in position for a regional title run.”
The Lady Vikings won their first game, beating Pendleton County 5-1.
In addition to East Carter, there are new 16th Region head coaches at Boyd County (Allen Boggs) and Greenup County (Mark Burgess).
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.