Can anyone in the city break Lexington Catholic’s two-year stranglehold on girls’ soccer in the 11th Region?
The Lady Knights have made back-to-back runs to the state finals and have been beaten in the regular season by a city rival only once in the past two years. In fact, Henry Clay is the only city team that has beaten LexCath in the last three years, doing it twice in 2014 and once last year.
But the 11th Region isn’t a pushover for LexCath or anyone else, boasting many of the state’s highest-rated teams each year.
“This is a tough region,” Henry Clay Coach Mebit Aragaw said. “Any day could go to anybody if you don’t prepare yourself. ... If you don’t worry much about the others and just take it one game at a time — you’ve got to take it that way — if you think about the region (as a whole), it’s just going to kill you. It’s just going to wear you out.”
Lexington Catholic Coach Terry Quigley was so impressed with Coach Ally Tucker’s Tates Creek Commodores last year, he picked them as the team to beat this season. Tucker, in her second year leading the 2012 state champion, appreciated the compliment. “We think that we try to do things the right way and work hard,” she said. “(But) until we take it from someone else, we’re still the ones chasing, right now.”
Quigley returns a powerful trio up front in Miss Kentucky Soccer candidate Kennedy Tranter, sophomore forward Maggie Corbett and attacking midfielder Abby Van Hoeve, who Quigley believes will have a breakout season. But he must rebuild his entire defensive back line in front of senior keeper Olivia Williams.
Tranter, Van Hoeve and Williams started each of the last two state finals and saw them slip from their grasp.
“You never forget that feeling after the game. It just sticks with you, and you don’t want to ever experience it again,” Van Hoeve, a Morehead State commit, said of the losses. “We’re tired of losing in the state final. We want to keep going and keep trying our best. That’s going to get us there.”
On the attack
Lexington Catholic brings back one of the most potent strikers in 11th Region history in Tranter, a senior who was recruited by Kentucky as a freshman and has earned first-team all-state honors each of her three years.
“She’s a load to deal with and any time she’s on the field, she’s a moment away from brilliance,” said Tates Creek’s Tucker. “We just hope that we can maybe limit those moments.”
Corbett became a sensation for the Knights midseason last year when Quigley moved the then-freshman from defense to offense. How good was Corbett? She scored 10 goals in 10 games after the move forward.
At the front of Tates Creek’s offense lurks sophomore Shae Robertson, who led the Commodores in scoring and earned first-team all-city and honorable mention all-state honors.
Junior forward Ashley Chindo brings phenomenal skill and speed up top and she’ll have the Blue Devils’ leading assist maker Ruby Kate Gray, a Hanover recruit, and senior Sara Ueland among nine major contributors returning.
Leading scorers for Bryan Station and Paul Laurence Dunbar return in Simone Bibbs and Baylee Lanter, respectively.
Coach Steve Fugmann, who led Lexington Christian Academy to the 2010 state finals, has last year’s top scorer Lexi Sheely, a senior Winthrop recruit who earned first-team all-city and all-state honors in 2016. Junior Grace Jacobs has emerged as a leader in the Eagles’ midfield.
Junior Brenna Wallin “has come in ready to rock,” according to second-year Lafayette Coach Taylor Roden. She’ll connect with fellow junior Lindi DeBilzan in a revamped offensive formation.
Dunbar returns a formidable defense that some coaches consider enough to end LexCath’s reign. It will be hard to break down Dunbar in the final third with first-team all-state defender Molly Mohr at center back along with fellow all-city honoree Sophia Mitchell in defense.
Team captains Abbey Bischoff and Isabella Waldrop represent the heart of the Commodores’ defense. “We’re a really young team, but they’ve gotten so much more experience over the past year. So, I’m excited to see how everything works out,” said Bischoff, a junior who has made a verbal commitment to Morehead State.
Minding the net
Dunbar’s Morgan Turcotte, a junior, has started in goal since she was a freshman and earned first-team all-city and second-team all-state honors in 2016.
“The expectations are very high for them (Turcotte, Mohr, Mitchell and Lanter),” said Dunbar Coach Tom Morgan. “They were big-time pieces of our team last year that helped lead to our success. But we also need some of our other girls that haven’t been in the limelight as much to step up.”
Bryan Station keeper Katelyn Gentry has also earned all-state recognition during her career.
And two-sport Sayre standout Dee Dee Wheeler trades her basketball jersey for a goalie kit once more.
“(She) is an unbelievable athlete — great instincts in the goal,” Sayre Coach Michael McKinney said. “She’s a player who can keep us in games sometimes when we’re a little outmatched on the field.”
If you’re going to contend in the playoffs, you must test yourself in the regular season. The following contests will hone the contenders.
West Jessamine vs. almost all of Lexington: The defending state champion gets Lexington Catholic at home Aug. 23 and hosts Dunbar on Sept. 6; Lexington Christian hosts the Colts on Sept. 28; Henry Clay matches up with them on Sept. 30 at the Tates Creek Showcase; and then Creek heads to Nicholasville on Oct. 4. Watch out for the Colts again this year if they clear most of those hurdles.
Sacred Heart at Lexington Catholic: Want to see how good you are? Schedule the five-time state champion from the 7th Region. Lexington Catholic always opens with the Valkyries, this time at home Aug. 14.
Fayette County Soccer Spectacular: This six-day season-opening tournament includes all six public city teams as well as Woodford County and Boyle County among others, Aug. 14-19 at Henry Clay and Tates Creek.
Bryan Station at Frederick Douglass: This 42nd district rivalry promises to be intense in every sport. On Aug. 29, the Defenders, a team with no freshmen (as of this writing), take on a freshman-powered Douglass squad.
Lexington Catholic at Henry Clay: The Blue Devils will try to topple the Lady Knights for the second year in a row on Aug. 28.
Lady Knights Challenge Cup: LexCath hosts some of the state’s top teams, Sept. 11-16, for what’s often a state tourney preview. This year’s first round features the Knights vs. Manual, Notre Dame vs. Assumption, Highlands vs. Simon Kenton and Tates Creek vs. Sacred Heart.
Lexington Catholic at Tates Creek: The district acid test for the Creekers comes Sept. 20.
Tates Creek at Dunbar: Dunbar was the last team not named LexCath to win the 11th Region. Its bona fides get tested against the Commodores Sept. 25.
Lexington Christian at Lafayette: This Oct. 2 matchup will determine how difficult each team’s district tournament opener will be.
Flip sides of redistricting
Bryan Station has six seniors returning from a team that made last year’s region tournament. But with parts of the old Bryan Station district moved to the new Frederick Douglass and Dunbar, Coach Daniel Hacker finds himself rebuilding with only three varsity subs. None have played soccer before.
“Depth is going to be a big issue, so we’ve got to be as fit as possible to do that to make sure we can compete,” he said.
Meanwhile Douglass has virtually all freshmen with only one senior and two juniors on its first-ever team.
“Going against some of the juniors and seniors across the city is going to be tough,” Coach Megan Adkins said. “But the girls have owned up to it, and they’re ready to go. … There’s no way but up for sure.”
Bryan Station Defenders
Coach: Daniel Hacker (fifth season).
Last season, 42nd District: 11-8-1 (53 GF/18 GA*), lost 2-0 in opening round of 11th Region Tournament to Woodford County.
Outlook: Depth will be a major issue, but Defenders might have enough to advance to region tournament for third year in a row.
Player’s take: Senior Cassie Hacker - “I’m looking forward to being challenged differently, because we’re not as deep as we have been in past years, but we still have a lot of good players, so it’ll be fun.”
Coach: Megan Adkins (first season).
Last season, 42nd District: This is Douglass’s first year as a program.
Outlook: Success this year will be measured by development of young team rather than wins and losses. Expect leaps in seasons to come.
Player’s take: Freshman keeper Maliya Crump - “We’ll get better over time, but it’s going to take time.”
Henry Clay Blue Devils
Coach: Mebit Aragaw (12th season).
Last season, 42nd District champion: 16-3-1 (43 GF/12 GA), lost 2-0 in 11th finals to Lexington Catholic.
Outlook: Knowing they’ve beaten LexCath each of the last two seasons, makes Devils a confident, formidable threat.
Player’s take: Senior Morgan Patton - “We’re going to try to go as far as our abilities take us. ... What we’ve been working on and just how good we are with team chemistry and everything will take us somewhere good.”
Coach: Taylor Roden (second season).
Last season, 43rd District: 6-10-1 (24 GF/32 GA), lost 2-1 in opening round of district to Lexington Christian.
Outlook: The Generals should pick off a few more wins this season and be able to battle for region tournament spot.
Player’s take: Junior Brenna Wallin “Last year, I thought we were just trying to restart everything, just rebuilding and this year, we’ve got a basis to do things now.”
Lexington Catholic Lady Knights
Coach: Terry Quigley (26th season)
Last season, 43rd District, 11th Region champion: 18-9-2 (69 GF/37 GA), lost 4-0 in state finals to West Jessamine.
Outlook: Knights appear to have weapons to score on anyone. If new players can defend, LexCath could contend for state again.
Player’s take: Senior keeper Olivia Williams - “At this point, it’s all or nothing for us. This is our last year. We want to go out with a bang — state championship.” .
Lexington Christian Eagles
Coach: Steve Fugmann (ninth season).
Last season, 43rd District: 11-8-0 (57 GF/34 GA) lost 4-0 in district semis to Lexington Catholic.
Outlook: The Eagles have talent, experience and a little more depth this year and it should make for a successful season.
Player’s take: Senior Camille Downing - “I think we’re going to be good this year. … Some of us have been playing together since fifth grade, and it’s like everything kind of comes together.”
Paul Laurence Dunbar Bulldogs
Coach: Tom Morgan (fifth season).
Last season, 43rd District: 13-7-2 (43 GF/16 GA), lost 4-1 in district semis to Lexington Catholic
Outlook: The Bulldogs have as much reason as anyone to think they can make some noise in the postseason.
Player’s take: Senior Payton Baker - “Even though we have a lot of new young girls coming up, they’re learning really quickly. It’s piecing together pretty well.”
Coach: Michael McKinney (fourth season).
Last season, 42nd District: 8-7-1 (34 GF/26 GA), lost 2-0 in district semis to Henry Clay.
Outlook: The scrappy Spartans have trouble getting results in the 11th, but always put up a fight. Would contend in a lot of other regions.
Player’s take: Senior Isabel Pergande - “We have a lot of young talent, and I’m excited to see if they will rise to the occasion, I’m sure they will.”
Tates Creek Commodores
Coach: Ally Tucker (second season).
Last season, 43rd District: 11-8-1 (32 GF/21 GA), lost 1-0 in district semis to Dunbar.
Outlook: Tates Creek has a championship pedigree but a lot will depend on how well this young team comes together.
Player’s take: Senior Isabella Waldrop - “I’m kind of excited to see how our team changes from last year. Our district is super tough. Our goal for this year is definitely just to get out of districts.”
*GF: Goals For/GA: Goals Against