BY ROCKY STANLEY
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
FLATWOODS Coach John Perry told Russell’s girls soccer team somebody needed to step forward with top scorer Kynidee Allen out of the lineup on Senior Night.
Sophomore Lena Blanke took on the challenge so well, her attacking display even resembled that of her dynamic senior teammate. Allen completed a two-game suspension after receiving a red card against George Rogers Clark.
Blanke’s first hat trick in a Russell uniform —all three goals coming in the second half — sparked the Lady Devils past East Carter 5-2 on Tuesday night.
She’s been a fine addition to Russell’s lineup this season after moving from Naples, Fla.
“This means a lot,” Blanke said. “When I first moved here, everybody on the team was super welcoming and encouraging. I appreciate them all for that.”
Russell has one of its deepest teams and hopes to make a long march in the postseason. The Lady Devils rolled past East Carter 9-1 a month ago in Grayson, but this time the score was 0-0 after 40 minutes.
Russell senior Taylor Stamper delivered a fiery pep talk as soon as the team came off the field. Then Perry did much the same.
“We were kind of playing under our potential,” he said. “We didn’t seem very intense as far as our play and I challenged them to step up.”
The Lady Devils responded by mounting attack after attack, firing 27 shots in the second half while dominating possession.
Blake punched in the first two scores, and later headed the ball forward to herself and finished for a 4-1 lead. A little later, her pass to Georgia Arrington set up Russell’s final goal.
“Lena came through with a huge game,” Perry said. “Although Kynidee is the key piece to our offense, even with her out we still have 11 quality players on the field. Everybody picked it up in the second half.”
Russell improved to 10-4-1, including an 8-0 mark inside the 16th Region. East Carter (86-2) is 7-2 against region opponents, with both losses coming against the defending champs.
Early in the second half, Russell’s freshman Isabela Barker hit a shot off the post.
Soon after, Arrington lofted one that landed on the top of the net.
The breakthrough came when Blanke scored off a feed from Arrington in the 54th minute.
“I feel like we played really good balls in the middle, mostly through Georgia,” Blanke said of the team’s junior distributor.
East Carter withstood a series of Russell runs to keep the score at 1-0 until Blanke put in a rebound of Renae Keeton’s shot with 28:41 remaining. Four minutes later, Stamper scored off a Kylie Busick free kick from just inside the corner.
“Not a corner kick but about the same thing,” said Stamper, known for making headers in those situations throughout her career. “I always try to get my head or body on it. I walked it in with momentum.”
East Carter standout Taylor Hall, shadowed by Abby Satterwhite most of the night, made it 3-1 on a breakaway with just over 12 minutes left.
Russell countered with Blanke’s third goal and one from Arrington, before Hall put away a penalty kick for her state-leading 55th goal of the season.
“Taylor’s such a good player,” Perry said. “She’s like a perched snake, waiting for you to make a mistake. As soon as you do, she’s great at taking advantage.”
Before the game, Russell honored six seniors — Allen, Satterwhite, Stamper, Busick, Abigail Keeton and goalkeeper Mercedes Maupin.
“I’ve played with most of these girls since GCYSA (Greenup County Youth Soccer Association) and made great friends,” Stamper said. “I’m happy but sad at the same time.”
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