BY MATTHEW SPARKS
FOR THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
FLATWOODS Russell’s six seniors had one final goal in mind the last time they stepped on the home pitch: a sixth straight district title. The Lady Devils hoisted the hardware once again after a convincing 5-0 win over Ashland in the championship match on Wednesday night.
“It means a lot to me, especially being the last match we will ever play on this field,” said senior Kynidee Allen. “It was a little sentimental tonight.We tried not to cry during the game. It meant a lot more to me this year.”
Allen tallied a goal and two assists. Sophomore Lena Blanke recorded two goals. Georgia Arrington and Hannah Howell each added another. Seniors Abby Keeton and Kylie Busick both contributed assists.
Multiple players have contributed to the team’s success this season. Allen is expecting several more weeks of soccer ahead.
“Honestly, I came into the game with a lot of confidence because I am on a team with 10 other girls that are outstanding,” Allen said. “If we play our brand of soccer and advance to the Elite Eight like we have in the past, there is no reason we can’t make it to the Final Four or farther.”
Arrington connected early in the match during the sixth minute. Blanke sent a strike that wasn’t collected by the keeper and Arrington was there to boot It back through.
It was a sign of things to come as Russell increased the pressure during the opening half.
“This is one of the few games this season that we have imposed our will from start to finish,” Russell coach John Perry said. “We’ve had a few games where we have given up a goal or two and had to fight back. It was nice winning the way we did tonight.”
“Our defense is topnotch,” he added, “probably the best in eastern Kentucky. That is bold for me to say, but they play very well together. We have a lot moving forward from the back and a lot of our attack starts from the back. I couldn’t ask for a better defense.”
Unofficially, the Lady Devils churned out 20 shots compared to the LadyCats’ two. Ashland coach E.B. Lowman has seen his team experience bouts of inconsistency this year.
“They outplayed us and deserved to win,” Lowman said. “We really didn’t compete like we were capable of. We seem to go hot and cold. We have games where we play and games where we don’t.” Arrington’s goal stood up until the final seconds of the first half. With the PA guy counting down the final seconds, Keeton slid the ball to Allen in the box. She calmly collected, eluded a defender and blasted it through.
“They knew it coming in and it may have added a little extra pressure to win this game,” Perry said of the senior group. “Hats off them. (Six straight titles) is an excellent benchmark. For them to go 4-0 in the district tournament and the two classes before them win two more, it’s just amazing.”
Blanke added to the Russell lead with two second-half goals. Allen delivered a cross betweendefenders in the 51st minute that found the foot of Blanke, who chipped it into the goal.
Allen has netted 19 goals this season but equally enjoys getting her teammates involved because “in soccer, the more unselfish play you have, the better it makes you feel. You’re not only playing for yourself, you are playing for your team.”
“Lena’s play has been amazing,” she continued. “She is fast, and she is technical. She is a great person and has a great attitude. … She has been a great asset to the team.”
Blanke followed the same script again with 16 minutes remaining, only this time she received a well-placed assist from Busick near the right sideline. It produced the same result.
Howell finished off the scoring with a tally four minutes later. She scored inside the box after an Allen dish.
“We need to go back to work,” Lowman said. “We broke in the back. We didn’t mark tight on our men. They got a lot of goals that were wide open, and they could just touch it in. We need to correct that, and we need to do it right quick.”
Both teams advance to the 16th Region Tournament next week at Greenup County. Russell (11-4-1) will attempt to extend another streak and claim a third consecutive region crown. Allen feels the team is ready for the challenge.
“We talk about that before every game — we are the team to beat,” Allen said. “It’s been like that since I was a freshman. We are used to having that target on our back. It gives us more motivation to play harder because we know we have to. Everybody will be out to beat us.”