2022 9th Region girls soccer preview: Notre Dame aims for another title run

G. Michael Graham
G. Michael Graham
Mike Graham covers sports for LINK nky

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The Notre Dame Pandas claimed another state girls soccer title last season with a record of 28 wins, no losses and one tie, and outscoring their opponents 118 to 4.

Though twelve seniors graduated from that dominant squad, Notre Dame is still looking to make another deep run this year.

“The cool thing is we have about four or five girls currently on the roster that actually got really quality minutes last year,” said Suli Kayed, Notre Dame head coach. “So when people ask me, ‘Well you graduated 12 seniors – 10 that played a lot.’ I’ll say, ‘Yeah. It’s a negative that you lost them. But it’s a positive because these girls didn’t experience what most of those girls experienced last year.’ They’re as hungry to do it. If I brought back eight starters from last year, now I’m worried about complacency. These girls have experienced it from the sideline and want to do the same thing.”

Standouts include defender Ellie Greenwell, an Ohio University commit. She is the team’s leading returning scorer with eight goals and 15 assists. Other key players at defender will be juniors Caroline Harper, Carlyn Tranter and senior Kendall Hemsath.

Senior Evie Meyer could make an impact at defender or midfield and junior Hannah Renaker looks to take over at goalkeeper for the Pandas. Renaker played in four games last year recording 10 saves and allowing no goals.

The Notre Dame midfield includes University of Georgia commit Abby Unkraut. She returns after playing high-level club soccer for years. Another newcomer is sophomore Cameron Kirtley. Three other midfielders hoping to make impacts there are seniors Ava Summe, Caroline Kramer and sophomore Megan McGraw.

Senior forwards Scarlet Cogswell, Tori Danneman and junior Hannah Knapke also return.

Notre Dame begins its title defense Aug. 10 at Bishop Brossart. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Highlands Bluebirds

The Bluebirds put together another solid season at 14-5-1 making it back to the region title game for the fifth time in six years. They also won a sixth consecutive 36th District Tournament crown.

Highlands returns seven starters including two dynamic scorers in juniors Laney Smith and Claire Cavacini. Smith had 20 goals and 13 assists on her way to 53 points last year and Cavacini scored 11 goals and tallied five assists for 27 points. The Bluebirds also return junior Lindsey Stein up front.

The midfield sees the return of senior Anna Melson. The Bluebirds should be solid in the back with the return of junior defender Ava Meyer and sophomores Kendall Graves and Kate Fausz. Senior Bianca Hemsath hopes to make an impact on defense after missing most of last season. Highlands Head Coach Chris Norris said Highlands is looking at two or three formations with four defenders, three or four midfielders and two or three forwards.

“In particular, these girls have bought into the system that we’re trying to play,” Norris said. “They really came together well last year and already this season, we’re several weeks ahead of where we were last year on the same day. They showed up ready to play. The runs off the ball are way ahead of last year.”

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The Bluebirds open the season Aug. 10 against Beechwood at Tower Park. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Dixie Heights Colonels

Chris Strum has built the Colonels into a solid program entering his seventh season.

Dixie Heights has made it to the 9th Region semifinals four of his six seasons. They bested Notre Dame, 2-1 in that round in 2020 before losing 3-0 to host Highlands in the title game.

The Colonels finished 15-7-2 and won the 34th District Tournament for the second straight year.

“They have the opportunity to stun somebody. That’s what we’ve created,” Sturm said. “Somewhere this year, I’ll probably go over my 100th win. I’m not a big numbers guy. But I know we’re close. That’s cool. That says a lot for these girls and the work that they’ve put in as far as being able to get out and accomplish that. To be looked upon as a Top 10 team (in Kentucky) is a real nice complement.”

Dixie Heights returns two of its top scorers in seniors Ashtyn Ivey and midfielder Reese Smith. Ivey had 30 goals and 15 assists for 75 points and Smith scored 10 goals and recorded 21 assists on her way to 41 points. Senior Abigail Kopp and junior Karolyn Lighthall also return at forward.

Junior Maria Dilts returns as a third-year starter at midfield. Two others hoping to help out there are senior Julia Riedmiller and sophomore Abby Parsons. The plan is to use multiple formations taking advantage of the team’s ability to use its speed and pressure opponents.

Dixie Heights returns senior goalkeeper Sarah Legg and three defenders on the back line, seniors Sammy Berman, Sloane Sturm and junior Hailey Kidd. Legg recorded 68 saves last year.

Dixie Heights opens the season Aug. 8 in the Fayette County Spectacular. The Colonels take on Lexington Christian at Henry Clay at 6:15 p.m.

Conner Lady Cougars

Conner finished last season 12-9-4. The Lady Cougars won the 33rd District crown for the second time in three years then made it to the regional semifinals before losing to Notre Dame. Mike Hughes enters his second season as head coach.

“I had to come out and sell a brand new system – a complete change with how we did things and how we approached it,” Hughes said. “They really bought into the system and we made the big run at the end. It was a card draw we could have met Notre Dame later. If they’re not the best team that I’ve seen, they’re awfully darn close to the top two or three teams that I’ve faced. There were no weakness at all.”

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Conner graduated nine seniors. But some good talent returns starting with senior defender Juliet Strange. Strange is the team’s leading returning scorer with eight goals and an assist for 17 points.

Sophomore Ally Welch returns at goalkeeper. She had 115 saves last year. Senior Kaliegh Cranfield will join Strange on the back line at defender.

Hughes said senior Hailey Oliver, junior Ella Mann and freshman Regan Buchert will anchor the midfield. Senior Elaina Keller returns at forward.

Conner opens the season in the Fayette County Spectacular against Lexington Dunbar at 8 p.m. The game takes place at Henry Clay.

Cooper Lady Jaguars

Cooper finished 14-5-1 last season.

Head Coach Scott Hughes and staff saw seven seniors graduate but Hughes is excited about the offense this year with the return of the team’s top six scorers.

“It’s grown in terms of numbers. But more importantly, it’s grown in terms of quality in commitment,” Hughes said. “That’s what has kind of helped us rise. Plus there’s something to be said with the continuity in coaches. There was a high turnover with the coaches at the early part of history with the Cooper program. Although we’ve built on it, we’ve been together for the most part for the last seven years. We have tremendous families and we’ve got girls that just work hard and really play for one another.”

Junior midfielder/striker Maleah Alexander leads the way there after scoring 20 goals and recording 15 assists for 55 points last year. Seniors Cadence Flamm, Peyton Jones also return in those spots and freshman Gracie Iles could also make an impact at both spots.

Senior Adelle Richardson and junior Kathrynne Day look to contribute at midfield. Day earned 9th Region honorable mention last year.

But Hughes said Cooper has some questions to answer on defense. Senior Shelby Snyder and sophomore McKayla Harsley are returning starters there. Senior Leah Watkins and Ashley Bessong will split halves at goalkeeper for now.

Cooper opens the season Aug. 8 against Western Hills at home. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Holy Cross Indians

The Indians finished 10-8-1 last year missing out on the 9th Region Tournament

The Indians hope to lean on experience this season with eight seniors on the squad.

“This is the most experience we’ve had returning in a while,” said Brittany Black, Holy Cross head coach. “So we’re really excited for that. Over the summer, they were meeting together and doing their own workouts. A lot of them are double or triple-sport athletes so they play a little bit of everything. That’s something we rely on at Holy Cross.”

Senior goalkeeper Mia Wilson returns along with three senior defenders in Lexi O’Daniel, Megan Heine and Sarah Bottom. Wilson made 155 saves last year.

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The Indians also return two players who scored double-digit goals last year: junior forward/midfielder Ivy Hoffman and senior midfielder Rylee Veneman. Hoffman had 18 goals and nine assists for 45 points and Veneman scored 12 goals and recorded seven assists for 31 points.

Two other key returning seniors are midfielders Aleah Arlinghaus and Sydney Quercioli. Three junior cousins also return at midfield in Bella, Jenna and Addison Saalfeld.

Holy Cross opens the season against Villa Madonna in the All “A” 9th Region Tournament at St. Henry. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Beechwood Tigers

Josh Young enters his fourth season guiding the Tigers coming off an 11-7-2 season. The Tigers graduated five seniors from that team.

“We focus on soccer. But we focus a lot on team chemistry,” Coach Young said. “Other teams may have more talented players. But if we stay together, we believe we can win big games.”

Sophomore Kate Young returns after a season with six goals and eight assists.

Junior Allison Goodwin and senior Sarah Sizemore are also back with sophomores Grace Cottengim and Juliana Gutierrez in the midfield.

Beechwood also welcomes back second-team all-region senior goalkeeper Lynden Noll and two defenders in junior Harper Birkemeier and Makayla Berger. Noll had 152 saves last year.

Beechwood opens the season Aug. 8 in the All “A” 9th Region Tournament against host St. Henry. Game time is 5:45 p.m.

Ryle Lady Raiders

Brian Runyon enters his second season as head coach hoping to build on a 9-5-5 campaign from last year.

Ryle is looking at employing a couple different formations. Senior Ella Gregory and junior Avery Huff are looking to contribute at defense.

The Lady Raiders are dealing with some injuries in the midfield and forward spots. Sophomore Emma Price is out for the season and senior Hannah Engel is expected to return in mid-September. Both are listed at both spots.

Seniors Madison Braun, Mya Galicia and junior Abi Moeller hope to contribute at midfield. Then juniors Gracie Carrigan and Kathleen Iasillo hope to make contributions at forward.

“So far this preseason and really going back into early June is you can tell this group is really dedicated and focused,” Runyon said. “I can tell a lot of them have put in a lot of work in the off-season and came back willing and excited to work hard. We went down to Bluegrass Games and got three good results. We played some good competition and the girls played really well together. I look forward to getting (the injured players) back. But it also gives opportunities to girls who maybe weren’t going to get as many minutes. Hopefully, they can step in, seize the opportunity, fill that role and get some more minutes moving forward.”

Ryle opens the season Aug. 8 at home against Bishop Brossart. Game time is 8 p.m.

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