How hungry was Russell’s girls soccer team to end a five-year drought between district championships?
After taking a two-goal halftime lead in the 63rd District final Tuesday night, the Lady Devils went back on the field and held rival Ashland without a shot on goal the last 40 minutes.
“They didn’t let down at all,” Ashland coach E.B. Lowman said. “They cranked it up.”
Russell’s wire-to-wire intensity and strong team play produced a 4-0 victory at Boyd County High School.
“This was the best total team effort I think we put in all year,” Lady Devils coach Joe Grizzle said. “They were all looking up and sharing the ball well. They controlled the tempo and controlled the ball.”
The Lady Devils didn’t want a repeat of last year, when they beat Ashland twice during the regular season but fell 3-2 when the teams met for the district title.
“We said at halftime, we don’t have it yet because they Ashland come back and get it,” said Russell senior midfielder Heather Hencye. “We had to keep pressuring them and not let them have a chance at our goal.”
Russell did just that, outshooting the defending region champs 12-0 in the second half.
Defender Kodie Patrick, another of Russell’s five senior starters, expressed both excitement and relief.
“Since this is our senior year, it feels great to win it,” Patrick said. “We had not won anything our whole time in high school. This is one of the best feelings you could have.”
Lexie Frisby and Hollie Hencye scored goals in the first half, with midfielders Cara Maher and Morgan Vonderheide providing assists.
Lady Devils senior goalkeeper Jalyn Forsyth made a diving deflection toward the end of the first half and the defense went on to register its 10th shutout of the season.
“Winning the district means a lot to me,” Forsyth said. “I’m really proud of our team, how hard they have worked. This year we picked it up. We want it. We have the talent to go really far.”
Russell (15-5-1) and Ashland both advance to next week’s six-team 16th Region Tournament, also hosted by Boyd County. Pairings will be determined Friday, with the tournament expected to begin Monday.
Maher scored her 25th goal to give the Lady Devils a 3-0 lead after Lexie Frisby dug the ball out of the corner. Heather Hencye closed the scoring in the 54th minute with an assist from Vonderheide.
Coach Joe Grizzle saluted the play of Russell’s defense.
“We call them the Fab Five,” Grizzle said of Forsyth, center defenders Shelby Huddleston and Jennifer Sloan, and outside defenders Patrick and Alexis McMonigal.
“We controlled the middle of the field and kept the ball on the other end,” Grizzle said.
Huddleston, one of the team’s catalysts, played despite a swollen ankle from Saturday’s game against Bishop Brossart but didn’t miss a beat with her tough, high-energy style.
“Shelby played the first half without it being taped,” Grizzle said. “At halftime, it was really bothering her and we got the trainer to wrap it. She goes back out and does a great job. I would say she’s the best defender in the region. I don’t think anybody would argue with that.”
Huddleston was all smiles afterwards.
“I try to win balls in the middle and clear everything out,” she said. “I’m just an aggressive player, whatever it takes to win.”
Sloan, a senior, also well played despite a sore ankle.
“The team worked so far for this,” the senior said. “Ashland’s a good team. I’m just glad we pulled through.”
Added senior Brooke Fowler: “This team feels like a family. We trust each other.”
Ashland (7-12-2) had a chance to take an early lead but missed a golden opportunity.
“That’s been the story of our season, we haven’t put the ball in the goal,” Lowman said. “Still, I thought we played Russell tougher tonight than the first two games.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.