You can read “Welcome to Valhalla” above the entrance to Rowan County's soccer pitch.
For the Ashland Ladycats, Monday's visit to Dave Shuster Field had nothing to do with Norse mythology or a Louisville-area golf course. No, it was the scene of a 1-0 loss to the Lady Vikings on sophomore midfielder Hannah Bandura's goal in the eighth minute.
Monday was Ashland's latest setback in a season-long struggle.
A 3-0 shutout of Boyd County Oct. 1 snapped a five-game losing streak, but the Ladycats (6-11-2) have dropped or tied eight of their last 11 matches. Ashland is a young squad — nine of its 20 players are freshmen — but coach E.B. Lohman II said the effect of that is “hard to quantify.”
“If you watch them, anticipation, the ability to anticipate, they don't do that as well (as a more experienced group),” he said. “It's something you learn.”
Rowan County (11-5-1) won its fifth match over its last seven. There were three other reasons for the Lady Vikings to rejoice last night: they outshot the Ladycats, 12-6; junior goalkeeper Emily Moore made three saves to earn her fourth shutout; and the defense held Ashland's leading scorer, junior midfielder Aidan Young (19 goals), to just three shots.
Lady Vikings coach Randy Wallace wished a few more shots had gone into the net. He also talks about his team being a family.
“They do things off the field,” Wallace said. “You would never know who a senior was and who a freshman was because they get out and do a lot of stuff together, especially in the summer when we're doing our preseason stuff.”
After junior midfielder Lauren Bauer's crossing pass from the left sideline found Bandura about 18 yards in front of Ashland freshman goalkeeper Jamie Downey, there was a split second of suspense.
“It was exciting,” Bandura said. “At first, I didn't know if it was going to go in, and then it went in, and it was great.”
Moore's last save, in the 70th minute, was the most crucial because it came against an Ashland free kick outside of the box.
After referee Kirk Thibodeaux whistled Lady Viking Becca Duff for a hand ball just outside the 18-yard box, Rowan County set up a three-player wall with Savannah Smith, Kara Lewis and Audrey Holbrook. Moore knew she had help to her right but wasn't so sure to her left, and she was ready to dive left if she had to.
Then Ashland junior midfielder Charity Collins fired.
“I knew we needed somebody on (my left) post, but I couldn't communicate it fast enough to Montana (junior midfielder Montana Minor) to get back,” Moore said. “It came directly to me, and luckily I caught it.”
Ashland finishes the regular season Thursday at Cabell Midland at 6 p.m. and meets Boyd County in the 63rd District tournament Oct. 14. Lohman said his team has to “keep doing what we're doing, and get a little luck on the scorecard and shoot the ball.”
Rowan County finishes at Grant County at 6 p.m. tonight and at Lawrence County on Thursday. As for the 16th Region, Wallace believes two other teams are favorites.
“I would say Russell and East (Carter) are probably the top dogs in our region, even though we beat East (1-0 Aug. 27 in Morehead) early in the year,” Wallace said, “But to beat them in the tournament, we're going to have to put the ball in the back of the net more often.”