After graduating four seniors and a loss in the 12th region championship game last fall, the Mercer County Lady Titans soccer team is back and ready to make noise in 2018.
“Losing Savannah (Prigmore) out of goal is big with her experience. She did a great job for us. The same can be said about Alyssa (Howard), Jasa (Connelly) and Lilly (Rogers). They all had experience. Our youth kind of showed at the Bluegrass State Games last week,” said Lady Titans Head Coach Josh Culver. “Some of our freshman and younger players are still getting used to the way we play. It’s just adjustments and it’s going to take some time. You’re never going to replace those players that we had exactly, so we just have to find pieces to the puzzle that fit and right now, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Junior Hannah Johnson and freshman Chase Flach are expected to battle it out in the pre season to see who gets the nod in goal, but Culver said both will get playing time throughout the season.
“We’ve got Hannah (Johnson) and Chase (Flach) coming up this year. Hannah’s got some varsity experience and Chase is our newest one, being a freshman,” he said. “Both of them could see some time throughout the season, but they both look very promising for this year.”
Culver is looking forward to this season. He has five seniors: Aubrey Jones, Lyzzi Prigmore, Kristin Releford, Hunter Robinson and Kaley Woods.
“Aubrey (Jones) and Lyzzi (Prigmore) are very versatile and can play all over the field. Right now, with the youth that we have, we’re trying to stick with a nice set up in the back. Lyzzi and Aubrey’s communication together is great. They work well together and play off one another,” said Culver. “With Kaley (Woods) being back, she brings a lot out on the wing. Kristin’s (Releford) knowledge of the game has improved a ton since last year. She can sit and draw up sequences and talk to me about. She’s really understanding the game. Hunter (Robinson) is in the back with a lot of experience as well so we have three on the back line that have been together long enough that they know what to do.”
Culver said all of his seniors have taken on a big leadership role this summer, heading into the fall. Holding younger players accountable is what being a leader is all about. Those five seniors have played on the biggest stage in the 12th region, so they know what it takes to make another run at a region title.
Junior Abby Steele, who saw a lot of time last year in the midfield and forward positions, has also taken on a leadership role.
“She has done a phenomenal job of stepping up and leading this year. She’s just a junior, but she’s talking all the time and helping the younger ones when they make mistakes so she has really stepped it up this year,” said Culver.
Despite losing a lot last year, the Lady Titans bring back young players who got a lot playing time as underclassman. One of those being sophomore Bella Garrett.
“She’s been doing training with other coaches outside of here. She is constantly looking to get coaching from everywhere. Some of the big things we’ve worked on with her is separating yourself from defenders, creating space so you have room to work and playing off the midfield to make runs,” he said. “She is getting a better understanding of everything this year, she’s matured a lot more and she know’s what we’re asking of her.”
Look for Garrett to make a lot of noise at the striker position this season.
“She’s very aggressive and that’s what we need out of her,” said Culver.
Athough Garrett will be up front a lot, she will have a lot of help with the mid-fielders coming up and helping out on runs.
“Sophomore Abby Dean and Bella (Garrett) have a good relationship because they’ve played together for their travel teams a lot. That combination there does a really good job,” he said.
Another young player that got time last year as a freshman was JoBeth Connelly.
“She’s done a lot of defensive-mid or outside-back defending. She does a really good job of winning those fifty-fifty balls. She’s not afraid to go body up somebody,” said Culver. “That’s what we saw a lot last year from her and she is continuing to do that.”
Listed below is the Mercer County full roster, separated by grade:
Seniors: Aubrey Jones, Lyzzi Prigmore, Kristin Releford, Hunter Robinson and Kaley Woods.
Juniors: Joselyn Flores, Hannah Johnson, Bailey Nevues, Abby Rogers and Abby Steele.
Sophomores: JoBeth Connelly, Erin Darland, Abby Dean, Bella Garrett, Katherine Schroder and Emmy Steele.
Freshmen: Maddie Angel, Marlie Charles, Chase Flach, Emma Kiernan, Love Mays, Maddie Moffett, Annie Pendygraft, Suly Smith and Calla Taylor.
“It’s all about experience. It’s going to take multiple games and just playing longer together for everybody to be on the same page. We’re young, we have a lot of numbers so the future looks really good if we just keep working at that and getting it together,” said Culver.
He talked about beating the best to beat the best. Playing the defending back-to-back state champions twice a year will give Mercer that opportunity. Culver talked about West Jessamine and the standard they set.
“West is a tall order every year. Kevin Wright does a great job with that program and it constantly builds. In the back of our minds, that’s who you have to beat. For us, it’s got to be a mind set,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to get these ladies to understand is when we step on the field, we can’t lose. We have to find a way to win.”
The Lady Titans play a tough schedule this season. They will travel to Boyle County for the Spine Center Showcase from Monday, Sept. 17 until Saturday, Sept. 22. Mercer will compete against Oldham County and will have a chance to play Boyle County, North Laurel, Madison Central and Male.
The Lady Titan’s first match on the pitch will be on Monday, Aug. 13, when they travel to Danville to take on the Lady Admirals at 7:30 p.m.
Their first home game will be on Saturday, Aug. 18, when they host Somerset at 11 p.m.
For more, check out this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald.