It’s no surprise who the team to beat in the 32nd District is once again.
It’s also the only thing that anyone knows since the district was formed with its current alignment in 2012.
Simon Kenton at the top.
The Pioneers will vie for a 12th straight district title in 2023, but a strong core that returns for Walton-Verona and an improving Grant County team should give Simon Kenton a tougher path than usual.
Here’s a look at each team in the district as the season begins on August 7.
Simon Kenton (14-5-4 in 2022)
A run to the 8th Region championship ended Simon Kenton’s season when they lost to eventual state champion South Oldham.
That experience alone and losing to the state champ should have the Pioneers driven and determined to not only defend 11 straight district titles, but make another deep run in the 8th Region.
“We’re looking to build upon the success of last season and finish at the top of our district and region,” Pioneers coach Hillary Johnson said.
The front line of attack will be the team’s strength while they try to work in a completely new back line of defense with a new goalkeeper.
Cam Ruble comes back from a 26 goal, seven assist season and should be in line for a bigger senior year. Supporting Ruble in the attack is Ella Smith, Lexi Howard, Reese Johnson and Meg Gadzala. Jada Johnson and Gracie Zepf look to stabilize the midfield while Fayth Tomlin will be the goalie.
“Each player is brining a high level of play, making our practices very competitive,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to grow and get better each day. In practices and in games, in wins and in losses, our goal is to learn from each other through our successes and our failures.”
The rematch of the region final takes place on August 26 with South Oldham and should give them a gauge of where they are early on in the season. Johnson said they’re also looking forward to playing Beechwood, Dixie Heights and Bishop Brossart, teams they tied with last season.
“We’re looking forward to those games to see if we can string more opportunities together to turn those ties into wins,” Johnson said.
Walton-Verona (15-6-1 in 2022)
Patrick Luken enters his eighth season as head coach and feels their in the best form they’ve ever been early on in the preseason.
The Bearcats are coming off a 15-win season and a two-year run in which they’ve gone 31-12-2. They return their top two goal scorers in Campbell Christy and Emma Landrum, the two combining to score 39 of the team’s 72 goals last season. The two highlight a strong group of upperclassmen.
“The group of juniors and seniors are extremely talented are very hungry to build on the success they have experienced the past 2 seasons. This will be the most athletic team Walton-Verona has ever produced. The girls believe they have that talent and goal production to make another all A run and hopefully be very competitive with Simon Kenton,” Luken said.
Luken feels Christy and Landrum could combine for over 50 goals this season with Olivia Sams and Trinity Bauwens, coming off an honorable mention all-state season will complement them well in the midfield. Kassie Evans and Braylin Terrell are expected to guide the back line of defense and hopefully help fill the void of goalkeeper Payton Kenny graduating, who tallied 190 saves in 22 games played last season.
“Sams will be a mismatch for most teams we play. She has the ability to serve long balls, take players on and shoot from distance. Bauwens does all of our dirty work in the middle of the field and when she players well we are very difficult to beat,” Lukens said. “Evans and Terrell are 6-foot plus, so their size and speed is going to let us take more risk than normal in the attack.”
The Bearcats have been a fixture for the All “A” state tournament, winning the 8th Region All “A” title every year under Lukens. But the question begs, can they top Simon Kenton in the district?
“Our primary goal is to win district,” Lukens said.
The Pioneers have claimed the 32nd District title ever since the district was aligned in 2012 with Grant County and the Bearcats.
Early tests at Newport Central Catholic and playing in the Smoky Mountain Cup in Gatlinburg, TN will give them a good gauge of where they are before they get into the 8th Region All “A” tournament with Gallatin County on August 24. They’ll host Simon Kenton on September 20.
Grant County (7-9-1 in 2022)
The Braves graduated just three seniors as they’ll look for their first 8th Region tournament appearance since 2014. They also return three of their top four goal scorers and their primary goalkeeper.
Kiana Cook returns off a 21-goal season, Lilly Kaffenberger back with six goals and nine assists and Lailah Whitton with four goals and seven assists while Madison Utter had 220 saves in 17 games in net. Kaydin Helton will be the defensive captain that provides senior leadership, one of just two seniors on a young Braves team.
“We are a relatively young team, but what really excites me early on is the speed and athleticism of this team,” Braves coach Derrick Gambrell said. “Most of the girls have been playing together for quite a while and really play hard for each other. I’m excited to see what we can do this year.”
They open their season August 7 at Villa Madonna and get their first taste of district action on August 14 when they host Simon Kenton. They’ll play at Walton-Verona on September 6.
After winning just five games combined in the 2021 and 2022 seasons, the Braves won seven games last year as Derrick Gambrell enters his second season with the team.
“We have been building this program for a few years now, winning more games last year than we had won in several of the previous years. We just want to continue to grow and get better,” Gambrell said.