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There are two undefeated girls soccer teams in Kentucky, but that will change after Thursday night.
Oldham County (23-0-1) meets Sacred Heart (22-0-3) at 6 p.m. at Dunbar High School in Lexington in the state semifinals. The winner will advance to Saturday night’s state championship game to meet the winner of Tates Creek and Notre Dame.
OC coach Dan Schulz said his team is nice and relaxed heading into the Thursday’s showdown with the Valkyries.
“That makes me happy to see them that way,” Schulz said. “Hopefully they’ll stay that way through Thursday.”
Sacred Heart likely represents the toughest matchup of the year for the Lady Colonels. The Valkyries won their first two state tournament games by a combined score of 12-1 (8-1 at Mercy Oct. 29 and 4-0 against Owensboro Catholic Saturday).
Sacred Heart has surrendered just 12 goals all year while scoring 129. Both totals were the best in Region 7, perennially one of the state’s most competitive regions.
Players like Lauryn Westman (23 goals, 16 assists) and Abigail Zoeller (18 goals, 22 assists) are key reasons why the Valkyries were ranked No. 1 by the state’s coaches.
The matchup with the Catholic, private school brings out a little public school pride, defender Shannon Rush said.
“I think we really want to prove that we’re a public school but we can still bring it,” Rush said. “But also a lot of us are familiar with the girls on their team because we play (club soccer) with them. It’ll be an interesting match.”
OC made it to Thursday night by knocking off Bowling Green 3-0 Saturday in the state quarterfinals at Lexington’s Lafayette High School. Shelby Cohen, Allie Houk and Haley Kemper all scored goals in the win, while a stout OC defense kept the Lady Purples from generating many chances.
“The first five minutes were a little nerve-wracking,” defender Shannon Rush said. “I think you could tell we were a little nervous to be there. But I think once we got settled in, we dominated and showed who we were.”
One of the best stories down the stretch for the Lady Colonels has been the play of goalkeeper Brianna Leary. The junior spent most of the year playing behind starting keeper Caitlynn Mason. But when Mason broke her collarbone Oct. 16 in the District 29 championship game, Leary was called into action.
Since then she’s collected five consecutive clean sheets over the span of the Region 8 tournament and the first two games of the state tournament.
“The first game was really bad when I first had to go in because I wasn’t prepared for it at all,” Leary said. “But every game I’m always nervous ‘til the game starts, then I get in the zone and I know what I’m doing.
“I can always count on Karigan (Owens) and Caylie (Surrena) and everybody else on the defensive team. They have my back and I have theirs.”
Rush said Leary “has really stepped it up” in Mason’s absence.
“She’s been a big part of the team,” Rush said. “I think as the defense we trust her.”
OC’s streak of six consecutive shutouts will be tested by Sacred Heart’s talented scorers, but at the same time Schulz said his own attackers, like Louisville signee Cohen (20 goals, nine assists) and Eastern Kentucky commit Kemper (22 goals, 12 assists), will challenge the Valkyrie defense.
“It’s a coin flip,” Schulz said of Thursday’s game. “They’ve had an awesome season, we’ve had a great year.
“It’s two evenly matched teams across the field. The teams that makes the fewest mistakes or capitalizes on the most mistakes is going to be the one that wins.”
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