LEXINGTON Ashland’s girls soccer team lost its first match of the season in the state semifinals.
In uncharacteristic soccer weather — temperatures were in the low 30s and winds gusted between 15 and 20 miles per hour — the Lady Cats fell to Greenwood, 3-0.
“My heart is just about ready to bust, I’m so proud of them,” Ashland coach John Cook said. “Greenwood played a great game and we didn’t give up, we played to the end.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t end up being the state champion. They’re a very good team.”
The match pitted two of the state’s top goal scorers in Ashland’s Abby Huff (66) and Greenwood’s Anna Haddock (53) against one another.
Haddock, an Auburn commit, struck quickly for the Lady Gators as she put Greenwood on the board in the seventh minute.
After swarming an Ashland throw-in, Lady Gators senior Annabel Justice raced to keep a ball in play and found Paige Hines several yards away. Hines then delivered a pass to Haddock, who weaved through three Ashland defenders to create a shot opportunity and a score.
“Offensively they were so good at just little kinds of passes, and keeping triangles in the field,” Cook said. “(Haddock) is just a fantastic player, and (Ellie Belcher) also.”
Greenwood continued to be incredibly aggressive on the attack, looking to create early separation. Haddock fired shots in the 17th and the 20th that were off frame, as the Ashland defense and keeper Mikayla Martin stood tall.
“She’s just a first-year keeper,” Cook said. “Mikayla of course would never tell you this, but right now she’s got an ankle that’s about twice the size it normally is.
“She rolled it yesterday … she did a great job just hanging in there and being tough.”
On top of an uber-aggressive offense, the Lady Gators limited Ashland’s shot opportunities throughout the majority of the match.
Huff’s shot in the 25th minute was saved on a diving effort from Elizabeth DeMarse, and the LadyCats did not receive many more looks.
“They pressured every ball we had,” Cook said.
In the 34th minute, Haddock got involved in the action once more for Greenwood. This time, she drew the attention of several Ashland defenders as she carried the ball up the pitch, and dished off at the last moment to freshman Sarah Wiles.
Wiles had an open shot and capitalized with a goal to the back left side of the net.
At halftime, the score favored the Lady Gators with a 2-0 advantage.
Greenwood scored again just out of the gate in the second half on a corner kick. Justice put the ball in play for the Lady Gators and found the right foot of Belcher, who just snuck the shot past Martin.
Belcher’s goal put the Lady Gators ahead 3-0, ultimately the final score.
At the conclusion of the match, Ashland seniors and twin sisters Abby and Clare Huff were named to the state all-tournament team.
The Huffs are among six seniors who will graduate for the LadyCats. Morgan Bradley, Kaitlin McClain, Reilly McClain and Sydney Sorrell also depart.
“All six of those girls have had offers to play in college, and I hope they all go and play,” Cook said. “All those kids I’ve had since probably sixth grade when I coached middle school, so they’re very special to me and I’ll miss them a lot.”
This season marked Ashland’s first region championship and state tournament appearance since 2012 and was the furthest the LadyCats have ever advanced.
“This is pretty darn neat, isn’t it? They loved it,” Cook said. “They’re going to be sad, and I told them back earlier in the week if something happens and we come out on the bad end of this, let’s cry for about 30 seconds and then we’re going to party.
“Be happy. What is it they say? ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’ That’s exactly what I want for them.”