Red-haired, freckle-faced and slight of build, Cara Maher arrived like a welcome wisp into Russell’s soccer lineup this season.
Watching her deft ball control as she darts up and down the field, however, Maher is actually a dynamo who leaves opponents hard-pressed to keep up.
Simply put, the junior joined an already strong Lady Devils team and helped raise it to another level. Russell, 13-4-1 against a demanding schedule, made an appearance in the Top 25 of the state coaches poll a couple of weeks ago.
As the regular season winds down this week, Maher’s impact with the Lady Devils continues to be far-reaching.
“Cara brought aggressiveness, ball skills, improvement to our team,” junior midfielder Morgan Vonderheide said. “She has a lot of soccer knowledge. She has taught us and led the team. She encourages us to play our best and keep our heads up.”
Maher’s ballhandling skills are some of the best the area has seen. As one opposing coach observed, “it’s like she has the ball on a string.”
Russell coach Joe Grizzle also marveled at Maher’s skill.
“We’ve had players in the past ... but it’s been a little while since we had one that comfortable with the ball,” Grizzle said.
Maher also leads the Lady Devils with 23 goals, but it’s her ability to mesh with teammates that stands out with her coach.
Grizzle described Maher as a good person all around.
“Obviously, Cara does a lot for us on the field,” he said. “She brought some leadership in, and she gets along with the girls. That’s the main thing. She blended right in with them.”
Maher transferred from Scott County to Russell toward the end of her sophomore year to live with her mother, Kandice Wallace.
“It wasn’t a hard transition,” Maher said. “All the girls were welcoming. They made me feel like a part of the team. I really love it here. That mostly comes from the other girls, how we get along together and make it work.”
Grizzle taught Maher in a social studies class during the second semester of the 2012-13 school year.
“She told me she played soccer, mostly defense,” Grizzle recalled. “I told her we had our defense coming back, but could always use a good player.”
Grizzle said he didn’t see Maher in action until Russell started practice in June. It only took a couple of looks to convince him that the new player would work just fine in the middle of the field.
Maher’s arrival allowed Grizzle to shift senior Heather Hencye from center midfielder to a forward spot. Hencye has nine goals to go with her team-leading 12 assists.
Russell’s coach also decided to move Lexie Frisby up top, and her 11 goals rank second for the Lady Devils.
“We can just find each other’s feet (with the ball),” said Maher, who has adjusted well to distributing the ball and scoring in her new role. “It helps when you practice all summer with a great group of girls and come to practice already friends.”
Despite Maher’s lack of size, she doesn’t play small even in congested areas.
“She doesn’t care to initiate contact,” Grizzle said. “Cara plays in that Premier League in Lexington and is used to taking those bumps. People try to knock her off the ball. She braces herself and is able to handle that physical play.”
Maher has scored two or more goals seven times this season. Her toughness and intensity remind Grizzle of Ashley Huffine, a first team All-State selection last year as a Russell senior.
“It’s a pleasure,” Grizzle said of coaching Maher.
Last season, Maher started for a Scott County team that shut out both Bryan Station and Henry Clay to win the 42nd District. The Lady Cardinals fell to eventual state champion in the opening round of the 11th Region tournament.
“We were pretty good,” Maher said.
Now she’s looking forward to making a postseason run with Russell.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” Maher said. “”We just have to go out on the field and show that we’re going to put up a fight.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.