High School Sports

Who’s the best girls’ soccer team in Kentucky right now? Who knows?

Lexington Catholic's Maggie Corbett and West Jessamine's Ashton Wyatt battled as host West Jessamine played Lexington Catholic girls soccer team on Wednesday Aug. 23, 2017 in Nicholasville, Ky.
Lexington Catholic's Maggie Corbett and West Jessamine's Ashton Wyatt battled as host West Jessamine played Lexington Catholic girls soccer team on Wednesday Aug. 23, 2017 in Nicholasville, Ky.

Sacred Heart beat Lexington Catholic, 3-1, on the first day of girls’ soccer season.

West Jessamine defeated Sacred Heart, 2-1, in its home opener two Wednesdays ago.

Lexington Catholic knocked off West Jessamine, 3-2, last Wednesday.

By virtue of the transitive property, there’s no clear indication of which girls’ soccer team is the best in the state as the first month of the season wraps up. This accidental round-robin featured three perennial contenders and did nothing but cloud up the big picture.

Can champs repeat?

In the short history of girls’ soccer in Kentucky — the KHSAA began sanctioning a state tournament in 1992 — repeat champions have not been uncommon. But there have been five unique champs in the last five seasons. If a team other than Tates Creek (2012), Notre Dame (2013) South Oldham (2014), Sacred Heart (2015) or West Jessamine (2016) wins this season, it would be a record for unique champs in a row.

The latest addition to that list hopes to prevent history. The Colts started the year with a bang — a rally from a 2-0 deficit at halftime to win at Manual, 4-2, then two days later they knocked off Sacred Heart. West Jessamine shut out Science Hill (Tenn.) at home before falling to Greenwood, 2-1, the next day. The loss to Lexington Catholic came three days after that.

West Jessamine, ranked seventh in the most recent edition of the Maher Rankings, graduated five seniors and Eva Mitchell and Anna Lee took 60 of the team’s 100 goals last season with them to the University of Kentucky. The Colts made an incredible run to their first title last year, allowing just one goal in their final seven games — the last five coming against top-15 foes.

West Jessamine's Mariah Jones intercepted the ball as host West Jessamine played Lexington Catholic girls soccer team on Wednesday Aug. 23, 2017 in Nicholasville, Ky. Mark Mahan

A climb back to the top won’t be easy, but it isn’t unthinkable. It helps to have sophomore Anna Rexford, a University of Cincinnati commitment, in goal, as well as a head coach with an infectious spirit. Kevin Wright, in his 30th year as a head coach and 10th year coaching girls, credits an offseason program that marries rigorous training with fun and rewarding off-the-field experiences as the reason West Jessamine stays in the mix.

“Maybe other teams do it, but when you’re together six days a week and you’re in the classroom and you’re taking trips and you’re doing all this social work … we were together 100 days last year,” Wright said. “I don’t know how many club seasons that is.”

Kennedy Tranter’s always fun to watch, unless she’s scoring on you, which isn’t fun.

Henry Clay’s Sara Ueland

Catholic’s quest

Lexington Catholic got to the top of the hill each of the last two seasons only to be pushed off by a more determined foe. Sacred Heart used a late goal to defeat the Knights in the 2015 finals. West Jessamine crushed Catholic, 4-0, in last year’s title game.

The Knights, rated fifth, lost to Ravenwood (Tenn.) over the weekend but had won four straight games after losing to Sacred Heart. One of those victories was a 3-2 decision at West Jessamine — the first time the Colts have lost to a Lexington school since 2012.

Kennedy Tranter, a Catholic senior who’s committed to UK, thought it was important for the Knights to prove they could overcome the Colts. She’d love to see them again, which won’t happen unless they meet in the state tournament.

“They’re always a great team to play and always challenge us,” Tranter said. “It’s good fun.”

Nearby challengers

Catholic annually can be counted upon as a threat to win the 11th Region, but it is by no means the only contender. In fact, the Knights might not even be the best team in town.

No. 4 Henry Clay defeated Lexington Catholic, 3-0, on Monday night. Sara Ueland got the hat trick for the unbeaten Blue Devils, but it was their backline that proved most intimidating in the early-season showdown.

“I get the glory because I got all the goals, but it was all their hard work shutting down their great forwards,” Ueland said. “Kennedy Tranter’s always fun to watch, unless she’s scoring on you, which isn’t fun.”

Henry Clay’s class of seniors, of which Ueland is a part, has gone 4-2 against the Knights, which ended their season in last year’s 11th Region finals. Monday night’s win was the biggest victory by either program in that stretch, but that won’t mean a lot come playoff time.

“I know they’re gonna be a different team when it comes the end of the season,” Henry Clay Coach Mebit Aragaw said of Lexington Catholic. “Hopefully we’ll minimize our mistakes and we’ll see how it goes.”

Tates Creek, rated eighth this week, is the last Lexington team to have taken the region and gone on to win state. The Commodores are 4-1, the lone loss coming to No. 21 Boyle County, a contender in the 12th Region. Creek missed the region tournament in Ally Tucker’s first season at the helm last year and for the third season in a row, so it doesn’t lack for motivation.

No. 19 Paul Laurence Dunbar has taken a couple of tough losses so far but the Bulldogs have been a steady challenger under Tom Morgan. Lexington Christian, sitting just outside the top 25, took a 6-0 punch to the chin from Catholic to open the season but hasn’t lost since. At the end of the day, whoever comes out of the 43rd District should be considered a legitimate threat to win the biggest trophy.

Looking elsewhere

Despite its abundant in-season success, Central Kentucky has yielded a girls’ soccer titlist only four times: Lafayette (1992), Lexington Catholic (2002), Tates Creek (2012) and West Jessamine (2016). With 200-plus teams from 16 regions vying for the same trophy, as well as past trends, the odds are this year’s champ won’t be from the area.

Sacred Heart (No. 1 in the Maher Rankings) has one of the better paths to another state title. It has owned its nearest competitors in the 7th Region, Assumption and Manual, in the last four seasons, going 9-1-1 against the pair in that time. The Valkyries haven’t lost a district game since 2011.

No. 3 Notre Dame has played in six consecutive state tournaments and returned 17 underclassmen (10 juniors) from a squad that lost to West Jessamine on penalty kicks in the first round of last year’s state tournament. No. 14 Highlands, also a 9th Region contender, has been on the rise and is also among the state’s best.

A region west of Louisville has never produced a state champ, but Owensboro Catholic annually trots out a squad capable of making a deep run and is ranked second. The Greenwood squad that beat West Jessamine has a sophomore, Anna Haddock, who eventually will play for a strong Division I program and contend for Miss Soccer honors in 2019. The Gators are ranked sixth.

So what do we know right now a month into the season? Not much, admittedly. A whole lot could change between now and the start of the postseason on Oct. 8.

You can count on one thing: The picture’s probably only gonna get murkier.

Josh Moore: 859-231-1307, @HLpreps