So far this season, it’s fair to say Ashley Chindo and the Henry Clay girls’ soccer team are ahead of the curve.
Chindo, a junior reclassifying as a senior, scored three goals and teammate Sara Ueland notched four assists as the undefeated No. 2 Blue Devils topped previously unbeaten and No. 7 Clark County 4-1 Tuesday night.
“I felt like it was just a game we just have to win,” said Chindo, who hasn’t announced her plans after high school. “Everybody has worked all the way from the defense to forward to get me that ball, so I feel like it’s my duty to finish it off and carry our team, because we all worked hard to get that ball.”
Henry Clay (9-0) had been ranked No. 1 last week before the Maher Rankings formula pushed them back behind Sacred Heart despite the Valkyries having two losses.
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“When we play to our full potential, and we stay composed, we can be a competitive team,” Sara Ueland said. “I don’t want to make any assumptions. The ranking doesn’t matter. We don’t worry about the rankings. We worry about the next game.”
Chindo exemplifies what’s made Henry Clay so tough to handle this season. She’s coachable, Devils Coach Mebit Aragaw said, and she’s always been fast and seemingly tireless. But now she has a maturity about her that has taken her game and the team up a notch.
“To tell you the truth, we didn’t expect to play this well as a team,” Aragaw said. “Everything has been consistent, so far: the energy, giving 110 percent every single game. … It’s hard to do. With a high school team you don’t know what you’re going to get sometimes.”
Clark County played right with Henry Clay in the first half, glancing a ball off the crossbar and seeing two balls cleared away by Devils defenders in front of a open net. One was taken off the line in a mad scramble about 12 minutes into the game and the other was headed away from underneath the crossbar on a corner just before half.
But Henry Clay’s speed presented a lot of problems for the Cardinals’ tendency to play a high back line. With Clark defenders playing near the center of the field, the Blue Devils began playing balls through to the speedy Chindo and Sara Ueland.
One of Sara Ueland’s runs set up a corner kick that resulted in the first score of the game. Sara Ueland’s kick arced to the back post and was headed home by Kymber Hockensmith to put the Devils up 1-0 with 16:09 to play in the first half.
A few minutes later, Chindo burst through the right side and fired a shot under a diving keeper to make it 2-0.
Clark answered five minutes into the second half when Delaney Manning’s shot straight away from about 30 yards out sailed over keeper Morgan Patton to cut the lead to 2-1.
But from there, Henry Clay took over. Sara Ueland continued to find Chindo sprinting into space. Chindo extended the lead to 3-1 with just over 31 minutes left. She capped her hat trick and sealed the game four minutes later.
“Normally teams don’t play a high back line, ... And, of course this is a grass field, so I’m just going to keep dumping, because she (Chindo) can outrun anyone. ... I like playing with her,” Sara Ueland said, smiling.
Clark (10-1), the defending 10th Region champion, racked up some big wins against 11th Region competition this season, including Paul Laurence Dunbar, Scott County and Woodford County.
The Cardinals were ousted in the first round at state last year by eventual finalist Lexington Catholic. The state tourney draw this year puts the 10th Region in line with the 12th Region for the first round. That’s where defending state champion West Jessamine lives.
So, for Coach Matthew Abner Sr., scheduling Henry Clay, Lexington Catholic and West Jessamine and the like serves to prepare his team for what they hope will be a deep postseason run.
“We were able to compete with one of the top teams in the state,” Abner said, acknowledging that while the score might not show it, “we saw some things we need to work on as a team and individually as players to be where we need to be. That’s why we wanted to play this game at this time of the year, so when we go to play West Jessamine and we’re getting ready to play our district games, we’re ready.”
Henry Clay’s Aragaw never discusses overarching goals such as region or state titles. He tries to keep his team focused on the next game. This team has been answering that call.
“It’s not me,” Aragaw said. “It’s just the leadership we’ve got and how bad they want to win every single game.”