A No. 25 state ranking last week showed Russell’s girls soccer team is beginning to gain respect outside northeastern Kentucky.
Coach Joe Grizzle’s squad continued to impress Tuesday night, blanking Ashland 5-0 at Russell Soccer Complex.
The Lady Devils (11-2-1) again displayed their balance, allowing the LadyCats few scoring opportunities while generating plenty of their own.
“When we keep the ball at our feet, we play well,” Grizzle said. “Sometimes during the season you can get caught up in playing long ball. We need to keep the ball at our feet. Good things happen when we do that, like tonight.”
Grizzle likes the team’s chemistry.
“These girls have worked hard from the very beginning,” he said. “We have good senior leaders and no drama. This crew plays well together. They like each other.”
Russell shifted into gear midway through the first half, scoring two goals in a four-minute span and never looked back.
Shelby Huddleston, the Lady Devils’ active center back, helped the Lady Devils control the pace with her high-energy play up and down the field.
“We try to play four back,” Grizzle said of the team’s defensive alignment, “but you have to loosen the reins on Shelby. She marks well, takes people out of their game and is disciplined enough to get back when she needs to. She has played that way all year.”
Offensively, Cara Maher reached the 20-goal mark this season with two scores while sophomore Morgan Vonderheide also put in two goals.
“Mainly, (Grizzle) wanted the team to be more aggressive and play to the feet,” Vonderheide said. “We worked well as a team today more than individuals. We came together well.”
Vonderheide, a tall and athletic outside midfielder, played a key part in the team’s first four goals.
Her steal led to a Russell crossing pass that Maher deposited in the goal for a 1-0 lead. A few minutes later, Heather Hencye advanced the ball to Maher at the top of the arc and she slipped a diagonal pass to Vonderheide, who drilled the ball into the net with 15:40 left in the half.
Vonderheide remained on the attack in the second half. She raced down the right side with the ball before firing a laser-like pass that freshman Josie Owens headed into the goal.
“Morgan is just tough,” Grizzle said. “She’s strong. She’s fast. She knows the game and looks for people. Plus she plays really good defense. That’s something I don’t think a lot of people realize.”
Vonderheide struck again after Russell goalkeeper Jalyn Forsyth protected the 3-0 lead by coming out of the goal to thwart a couple of charges by Ashland’s Aidan Young. This time, Vonderheide used the side of her foot to kick in a loose ball in front of the goal.
The Lady Devils made it 5-0 with just under five minutes on the clock. Lexie Frisby made a nice pass to Maher, who maneuvered into point blank range for the score.
Russell travels to the Louisville area Saturday for a doubleheader, highlighted by a 10 a.m. matchup against unbeaten and fifth-ranked Oldham County. After a brief rest, the Lady Devils are scheduled to play North Oldham (3-9) at 3:30 p.m. Both games will be played at North Oldham.
“We felt if we were going to Louisville, we wanted to get two in,” Grizzle said.
Ashland, the defending 16th Region champ, faces another tough region opponent Thursday as East Carter pays a visit. Although Russell has outscored Ashland 10-1 in two meetings this season, Grizzle isn’t reading too much into the scores.
“They will be right back there in the postseason,” Grizzle said of the LadyCats (5-8-1). “You can’t count them out. They will regroup.”
Owens had two assists for Russell, which was replaced by Newport Central Catholic at No. 25 in the state rankings this week. NCC had wins over Ashland and Russell here on Sept. 14-15.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.