Even after 20 years, Ashland girls soccer coach E.B. Lowman isn’t afraid of change.
It just took him a little longer to figure it out this year, he joked after his LadyCats beat Boyd County, 4-0, in the first round of the 63rd District Tournament on Monday at Russell Soccer Complex.
“I told the girls they ought to get a new coach,” he said with a laugh.
Some recent defensive adjustments seem to be taking full effect as the LadyCats head into the district championship game against Russell. The match is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Russell.
The Lady Devils happen to be the last team to beat Ashland, and that 5-1 outcome was what initially prompted Lowman to reconsider some things.
“We were all mad at each other, and we kind of imploded,” Lowman recalled. “But we fixed all that. Everybody’s happy, we all love each other.”
Ashland (12-6-4) is 4-0-2 in its last six games.
On Monday, Ashland was assertive from the get-go, and it turned into a dominating performance.
The LadyCats drilled the ball deep into Boyd County territory early and often, making it a busy night for Lady Lions goalkeeper Emily Stewart.
Ashland outshot Boyd County 33-2. While Stewart still managed 19 saves, simply too much was firing her way.
Aidan Young found the net first, at the 14th minute. Kayla Brown’s shot attempt deflected off of Stewart’s hands and before the keeper could retrieve the ricochet, Young booted it just past her fingertips.
“(Young) is finally not playing hurt anymore,” Lowman said.
Young suffered a leg injury in Ashland’s first meeting with Russell, which was also a loss, during the third game of the season. The sophomore midfielder has been back for nearly three weeks.
“She’s learned to compartmentalize,” Lowman said. “She puts the pain out of her head and plays.”
With Young on one side of the field and Sarah Hudson on the other, Lowman likes the speed his outside forwards bring. Charity Collins runs the show on the interior.
Collins scored two goals, both in the final 20 minutes, on Monday. One was on a penalty kick after a Boyd County defender tripped up Ashland junior Rachel Redman in the penalty area just outside the goal box. The second, which made it 4-0, came in the 75th minute.
Collins was an indirect factor in putting Ashland up 2-0. Her cross from the corner made some contact with Stewart before trickling in front of Ragan Neil for a point-blank goal.
During the two regular season meetings, it was Boyd County that shot out to a lead, so Collins said Ashland made a point to start strong.
“We knew we had to bring it from the beginning,” said Collins, a sophomore and the team’s leading scorer (28 goals). “Start hard, end hard.”
Boyd County (8-10) and first-year coach Nic Skaggs couldn’t have started its season off much better, but an eight-game losing streak to end the year was tough to endure.
“We had an excellent season overall — we beat teams we hadn’t beaten before (Huntington St. Joe) and we led Ashland both (regular season) games in the first half,” he said. “The past couple weeks have been a hard road. There hasn’t been the same chemistry that was there at the beginning of the season. Finding that and keeping that is going to be the goal next year.”
Boyd County graduates nine seniors.
Ashland’s midfield play has been exceptional recently, and it tied a talented Huntington team 1-1 a week ago. Emily Bond, Jenna Cook and Caroline Fannin are some of those playing significant roles in a much-improved defense.
Giving up five goals to Russell three weeks ago has served as motivation.
As for the rematch with the Lady Devils, Collins said she and her teammates are ready.
“We had an off game (on Sept. 19), but I think we’re more than capable of beating them,” she said.
Added Lowman: “I have all the confidence in the world in our team. I hope they come out angry, because (Russell has) beaten them twice. I hope they come out to play.”
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.