The Lady Titans Soccer team ended their 2019 season with a 12th Region Championship appearance, but not a championship trophy. It’s been nearly a year since the 4-0 defeat to West Jessamine, and the Lady Titans have never been more ready to kick off a season.
“I’m really excited, mostly because I haven’t played a game in months and I get to play it with my high school team and we love and support each other a lot. I’m expecting a really good time and hopefully, we can use every minute we have out on the field together,” said senior forward Bella Garret.
Six seniors will play their final season for the Titans this year and four-year starter Abby Dean expects the Titans to reach the 12th Region Championship game again, due to the team’s cohesion and hard work.
“I expect us to go really far, I mean, we have a lot of talent on our team and a lot of good chemistry because we’ve been with each other for so long. I expect us to go far, hopefully winning regionals. We’ve been training really hard and we’ve been working really hard and I have high hopes for us this season,” said Dean.
These seniors will have a crucial impact on the success of the team this season. Dean, Garret, JoBeth Connelly, Christina McClain, Erin Darland and Katherine Schroeder have been with the program for a long enough time and they know the play style and the coaching staff’s expectations according to Head Coach Josh Culver. Culver attested to the senior classes’ leadership saying that they each lead in a different way, and Dean may find it easier to lead because she is playing with her best friends.
“I’ve been in this program for many years now and it’s really exciting to be with my friends in this last season. I’m super excited to finish it with my best friends, and I’m excited for what’s to come,” said Dean.
Garret is also a four-year starter, scoring 20 goals and assisting another 13 during her first three seasons. Her ability to create plays and her knowledge of the game makes her an attacking midfield threat and her versatility allows her to score from many different positions according to Culver.
Garret, much like Dean, believes the team chemistry is a major strength in the Lady Titan’s lineup this season.
“I definitely think that’s one of our strongest assets, how long we’ve known each other, and I know that my teammates will play their heart out for me and I would do the same for them,” said Garret. While she admits her and her teammates may not have as much preparation heading into the season due to COVID-19, and may not be as skillfully developed as they normally would be heading into the opening game, their bond as a team will carry them through.
“I think that even if we’re not up to date on skills because we’ve barely had practice due to corona, our love for each other and for the game is going to shine through this season,” said Garret.
Junior forward Love Mays, who scored and assisted 21 goals for the Titans last fall, has left the program.
Sophomore Timberlynn Yeast is joining the Titan squad this season. The track and field and Lady Titan basketball star could make an immediate impact on the team simply because of her considerable athleticism and versatility. Culver plans for Yeast to add depth to an attack and midfield that is already anchored with talent and experience.
McClain, while not a new face, is making a return to the pitch this year after missing last season due to an injury. Her presence on the squad provides further depth in the midfield, and competition for junior defensive midfielder Maddie Angel.
“She (McClain) is an excellent distributor with the ball and has a great first touch so she’ll definitely be able to contribute when the time comes,” said Culver.
The big question for the Titans this season is whether or not they will be able to close the gap on powerhouse West Jessamine. The Lady Titans suffered defeat to the Lady Colts three times last season including the 4-0 loss to finish the season. However, Culver believes the gap is narrowing, and perhaps the Titans can put an end to the Colt’s status as the only team to consistently stand in the way of silverware for the Titans.
“We’ve played them long enough now, we understand the way they play, and I feel like this is the year we could really compete. We have a lot of returning seniors and juniors, I know they (West Jessamine) graduated around eight or nine seniors last year, so as far as being able to compete with them, I think we will,” said Culver. The Titans are scheduled to play away at West Jessamine High School, the first game of the season, Sept. 7, at 8 pm.
Replacing fullbacks Abby Steele and Abby Rogers in defense is another hurdle Mercer County and Culver must overcome in 2020, and while he believes Steele was “on her own level,” Schroeder, Connelly and Annie Pendygraft will do their best to replace Steele’s defensive impact for the Titan squad. Culver plans for Darland and junior Suly Smith to defend centrally.
Culver is counting on the offense to continue playing at full strength. Every player, except for Mays, is returning this season and he plans to keep similar attacking tactics and lineups as last season.
COVID-19 has changed the state of high school sports in Kentucky, and Culver’s expectations for the team and each individual player has adjusted to the current climate of uncertainty. He is focused less on trophies and results, he would like to win of course, but his message to the squad ahead of kickoff on Sept. 7, has been to enjoy every moment and give all you have every minute, because it is impossible to tell when their last opportunity to play as Titans could be.
“Every year the expectation is to go out and compete hard, no quit, play until the game is over and whether we’re up, down whatever you’re giving it your all no matter what. These girls know, this year especially, you don’t know when your last game could be due to COVID-19. I’ve told them this year to embrace every game as if it’s your last and go all out. Embrace it and enjoy it, live in the moment,” said Culver. He said that the team wants to win the district championship and compete for a 12th Region Championship, but with the state of the world at the moment, it is most important to the girls that they can play the game that they love.
Below is a list of the Titans roster.
Seniors: JoBeth Connelly, Erin Darland, Abby Dean, Bella Garrett, Christina McClain and Katherine Schroeder.
Juniors: Maddie Angel, Marlie Charles, Emma Kiernan, Maddie Moffett, Annie Pendygraft and Suly Smith.
Sophomores: Amritha Ekambaram, Aaliyah Grubbs, Abigail Harrod, Riley Johnson, Ryleigh Sipe, Lillie Travillian and Timberlynn Yeast.
Freshman:Macy Baker, Presley Boyne, Anna Schroeder.