High School Sports

Recruited since 8th grade, UK women’s soccer commit low-key amid the highlights

Lexington Catholic's Kennedy Tranter goes for goals

Lexington Catholic's Kennedy Tranter a low-key highlight reel and UK commit.
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Lexington Catholic's Kennedy Tranter a low-key highlight reel and UK commit.

If you watch Lexington Catholic’s near-lock candidate for Miss Kentucky Soccer play for the Lady Knights, you might wonder what all the fuss is about.

Kennedy Tranter’s easy gait as she moves around the field sometimes makes her seem disinterested. A glance at the state record books shows she doesn’t hold any state marks for goals or assists — none.

This is the player who garnered scholarship offers from Kentucky and Louisville when she was barely a freshman? This is the player who has been first team all-state three times?

Tranter welcomes your presumptions. The shy, unassuming senior doesn’t want the attention. She’s biding her time and assessing the defense that’s been keying on her all night. And while you might not know much about Tranter, her opponents do.

“She allows us to make mistakes on the field, because so many people are watching her we have more open space than most teams,” said Lexington Catholic Coach Terry Quigley, who has led the Knights to back-to-back 11th Region titles and the last two state finals. “It’s like the other team’s playing a player down because they put an extra player on Kennedy.”

But Tranter makes a direct impact, as well.

“The thing about her is you can play well for 79 minutes and feel like you’ve done everything you can to shut her down, and all it takes is one moment, and she can capitalize,” Tates Creek Coach Ally Tucker said. “That’s the danger of a player like that.”

The Commodores had Catholic down 2-1 with under 20 minutes to play last year. At 19:53, Tranter launched a curling corner kick perfectly into the back of the 6-yard box, finding the head of teammate Cassie Corbett for the tying goal.

On the ensuing kickoff, Tranter slyly stood opposite her normal position on the field and away from the defender who had been marking her closely all game. She knew Tates Creek would likely knock it back to a player in front of her.

The slow stride vanished as she sprung forward, winning the ball in an instant and shedding a stunned defender as they raced toward the goal. Her shot sailed over the keeper’s outstretched hands and into the net.

The score: Lexington Catholic 3, Tates Creek 2. Barely 10 seconds had elapsed since a 2-1 Creek lead; time enough for Tranter to change the game.

“She has a unique talent of luring you into a false sense of security,” said Woodford County Coach Brad Turpin, who has never beaten Tranter’s Knights despite knowing her strengths and weaknesses as her Lexington F.C. club coach all through high school. “(But) when she gets the ball, she’s coming right at you going to goal.”

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Kennedy Tranter photographed at Lexington Catholic High School soccer field in Lexington, Ky., Friday, August 18, 2017. She has been all-state since her freshman year when she committed to play for Kentucky. She's one of the leading candidates for Miss Kentucky Soccer this year. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

First kicks

As her mother tells it, Tranter’s father, John, claims to be the best coach she ever had. They were undefeated in the Jessamine County youth league’s under-5 division.

“Her very first game she chewed off the collar of her shirt, and she was like ‘Mom, I’m so nervous.’ She’s four. And I said ‘Just go out there,’” Kim Wallace remembered. “Well, she scored nine goals.”

Always athletic, Tranter hung out with her older sister Alex’s cheer team and would amaze them with her tumbling feats. Her remarkable balance and core strength would be noted later by her soccer coaches. The cheer coaches took notice, too, but curls and bows didn’t suit the girl who rang up 99 goals her first year on a soccer field. She often only got to play half the game, because putting her on bench was the only way to stop her.

“You know they kind of play that buzz ball (at that age), and she would come out of the pack with the ball every single time,” Wallace said.

Soon, Tranter would be “playing up” into older recreational divisions, then on local select teams and eventually still “playing up” for the biggest club in the area, LFC. As gifted as she was, she combined it with a tremendous work ethic and determination to get better.

“When the ball starts rolling in training, you can just see her mood change,” Turpin said. “She’s there to learn. She’s there to compete when the game starts. She’s ready to roll.”

A divorce and remarriage brought Kennedy a broader family, now with siblings and step-siblings, mostly older, all athletic and none who would take it easy in any game involving Kennedy.

“They would play two-on-two out here all the time,” Wallace said. “And it would be Chancey and Chase and Kennedy and Houston.”

Chancey Wallace played soccer for West Jessamine, while Chase Tranter played soccer for LexCath. Houston Wallace was a golfer for East Jessamine.

Tragically, Houston Wallace, 21, and a friend, Justin King, died in a single-vehicle crash in early August. For the family, the friends they’ve made through all of their children’s activities brought a tremendous outpouring of sympathy and support, Wallace said.

For Kennedy, soccer provided an escape. Tranter played a scrimmage against Daviess County the evening after the accident. Too shaken to drive, someone took her to the game. More than two weeks after the accident, Wallace said, the family remained “in a fog.” Soccer is a refuge.

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Lexington Catholic’s Kennedy Tranter dribbled against Assumption at Joseph Ford Stadium in Lexington on Aug. 22, 2016. Matt Goins

Coveted recruit

Tranter attended a UK college player ID camp the summer before eighth grade. Then-UK women’s coach Jon Lipsitz stopped the family as they were leaving on the final day. He wanted to keep in touch, Wallace said.

Tranter also made a U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development regional team that year. She flew to a Phoenix event on her own. Natalie Gorman, then a Louisville assistant coach, was also on the flight for the event, Wallace said. Louisville quickly took notice, as well.

Wallace signed Kennedy up for a Louisville ID camp the next summer. Within an hour of her completing the online form, a Louisville representative reached out to Tranter’s club director. Louisville wanted her for an unofficial recruiting visit.

She hadn’t yet started her freshman year.

“It was very stressful and nerve-racking,” Tranter said of the recruiting process. “I didn’t know really where to start.”

Over the next Christmas break, Tranter’s LFC team played in a soccer showcase at Walt Disney World. It seemed like every college coach in the nation was there.

“At Disney, that was probably Kennedy’s best showcase,” Wallace said. “She played so well. She was so confident and there were maybe at one game 40 coaches there, and they were all taking pictures.”

As an LFC coach, Turpin fields inquiries from colleges on a number of his team’s players. With NCAA recruiting restrictions on contacting the families directly, Turpin’s phone stays busy.

“I had a couple (of players) in Sarah Gorham (WKU) and Lindsay Elsen (High Point) from Lexington that were able to get some looks that young, but there is no doubt that Kennedy was high on people’s radar very, very early,” Turpin said.

That February, UK invited Tranter for an unofficial visit, including a meeting with Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart in Rupp Arena during a UK men’s basketball game. The experience amazed Wallace.

“Barnhart came and met with us for like 30 minutes, and he knew everything about Kennedy,” she said. “To me, that’s very impressive. … (knowing) a young girl and her family that’s going to play soccer?”

Eager to make her decision and end the frenzy, Tranter wrote a pros and cons list for Kentucky and Louisville.

“Really they were pretty even,” Wallace said. “The fact that UK was closer, the fact that we (as a family) bleed blue … and she just said, ‘I think all my life, all I’ve wanted to do is play for Kentucky.’ And I said, ‘There’s your answer.’”

She committed to UK in March of 2015, her freshman year. Shortly after Lipsitz’s firing last fall, then-UK assistant Ian Carry reached out to assure Tranter’s family that UK remained committed to her, Wallace said. UK later named Carry head coach.

“I really liked (Carry),” Tranter said. “He helped part of my recruiting process, so, he’s been real nice.”

Tranter has accelerated her LexCath school work in order to graduate early and enroll at UK this spring, just like West Jessamine’s Miss Kentucky Soccer Eva Mitchell and Simon Kenton’s Abby Zoeller did last year. Mitchell scored her first goal for the Cats on Sunday.

The teammate

Tranter’s teammates get to see both the fun side and business side of the striker who’s been at the top of their formation for three years. During a break at a recent practice, she wanted to show Quigley she could do a back flip. Quigley begged her off. “If you get hurt …”

“She’s really funny. She’s really energetic, but at the same time she can be a quite serious player,” senior keeper Olivia Williams said. “It’s no shenanigans time. She can switch it on an off which is really nice because it keeps the mood really good. If you’re all serious, it’s not really that fun. But when those lighthearted breaks come through it makes it a lot more fun.”

As a senior, Tranter also takes her leadership role seriously.

“She gives me motivation to work hard,” senior midfielder Abby Van Hoeve said. “She tells me on the field, ‘Abby, we need you to step up,’ and I know when to (go). She knows when we need to get that run in, and she has the best counterattack ever.”

Unfinished business

Each of the last two years, Lexington Catholic has made it to the state finals, only to lose.

In 2015, Tranter rattled the cross bar on a shot that would have given them the lead. They fell 1-0 to Sacred Heart.

In 2016, Tranter fell ill between the semifinals and finals with the flu and strep throat. She played, but, even healthy, it would have been difficult for the Knights to stop a steamrolling West Jessamine team bound for a 4-0 win. The two finals teams meet again Wednesday night at West Jessamine.

But this has been the year that her LFC team with Coach Turpin finally won a state club championship. This could also be the year she helps bring a state title home for Lexington Catholic. How will she do that?

“Just leave it all out there,” she said. “This is my last high school season. I want to go as far as you can, try to do the best we can. I think we have a shot if we just work hard and play how we can.”

Wednesday

No. 5 Lexington Catholic at No. 1 West Jessamine

When: 7:30 p.m.

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