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Four pillars on the Lady Panthers soccer team played in their final regular-season home game Saturday night. Seniors Jordan Bailey, Lyndie Burns, Raenah Hawkins and Lidia Jimenez ran out onto Panther Field for possibly the last time. However, if they have it their way, it will not be the last time, as the winner of the 31st District Tournament has the honor of hosting a first-round 8th Region Tournament game.
The girls did their best to send off their seniors with a win, but managed a tie against Whitefield Academy, 0-0. “I wish we could have brought the seniors a win in, but I’m also glad we didn’t bring them in a loss, so I’ll take a tie,” head coach Greg Damron said.
Carroll defeated Whitefield 6-2 last season on the road and had hoped to repeat that performance this season. As a result, the girls may have been a little too antsy to start the game.
The Lady Panthers were in possession in Lady Wildcat territory the majority of the first half, but appeared a little over-eager. The girls were kicking the ball as soon as it came to them, rather than settling and passing it, or taking advantage of the open space and dribbling with it.
“I think they were overexcited,” Damron said. “We spent an entire season of keeping it at the midfield and at the defensive line, and then, boom, tonight, we implemented some new stuff … and next thing you know, we’re on the offensive end of the field.”
The team developed the mentality that “we’ve gotta go, we’ve gotta go,” he said, and was making frantic passes. Damron said he and the assistant coaches talked to the girls at halftime, encouraging them to calm down a littleand to use the extra touch, and was pleased with their improvement in the second half. He said the girls spent all last week working on touches and controlling the ball and moving the ball upfield in triangles. The work paid off.
Starting off the second half, Jimenez had two shots on goal within the first five minutes, the second off a cross by Alex Skirvin. But the Whitefield goalie saved them both.
Carroll goalie Nicki States made a few nice saves of her own during the game, in particular on a free kick in the 53rd minute. Carroll was called for a handball, and Whitefield was awarded a free kick near the goal. States deflected the shot, bobbled it and finally grabbed it with both paws for the save.
Both teams made runs on the goal in a much-more-physical second half, but neither could connect; the game resulted in a tie because it was not a district or conference match-up.
Despite the pushing and shoving in the second half, Damron said he enjoys playing Whitefield, and both teams and coaches get along well.
He said defenders Carley Hunter and Kaylin Wallace played particularly well against the Lady Wildcats.
He commented on Skirvin making a couple good runs at the goal and said some of the referees were talking about how quick she is. In the middle of the field, Damron said Kelsey Wallace and Teresa Garrett played well.
Coming off the bench, Hailey Ashton also gave the team some good minutes. Damron said it has taken her some time to get adjusted to the varsity game, especially the physicality of the players, but she has responded well. “She’s standing up for herself and you can just see week-to-week she’s getting better and better and better.”
Damron also took the time to talk about each of his graduating seniors.
Bailey played on the boys’ co-ed team her freshman year and then began playing for the newly formed girls team. “Jordan was always a strong utility player,” Damron said. “She’s a natural-born athlete; you can put her anywhere on the field, she’s going to pick it up, she’s going to make a difference.” Saturday night’s game was a prime example of this, as Bailey played center midfielder, wing and on the defensive line.
She is a “good kid” and works hard, Damron said.
Burns has played soccer for two years and spent a lot of time before and after practice honing her skills, he said. She was not always an endurance player last season, but the team has leaned on her a little bit more this season, and she has responded. “In two years, I’m really proud of the response she has given.”
Hawkins did not have any prior soccer experience before playing for the Lady Panthers three seasons ago, but she has picked up the game very quickly. “If you look at that defensive line and you remove that variable out of the equation, you see a noticeable difference; it’s amazing,” Damron said. “You take one player off that line, and it makes that much of an impact.”
Jimenez grew up in the Carroll County soccer program, from parks and rec to the early British soccer camps and then to the co-ed league in high school. “Her presence on the team is going to be lasting,” Damron said. “It’s always sad when you’ve had a player that long and then the next year you’re not going to have that presence. The family, they’re done after this year as well — Lidia is their last girl — so we’re losing more than just one player with her, we’re losing a whole family and they’re outstanding people.”
The Lady Panthers will conclude their regular season Wednesday on the road at Ludlow. Damron said he is trying to get the conference game against Walton-Verona rescheduled, but he does not think there will be time. The varsity game was cancelled due to extensive lightning on Sept. 26.
On Monday, Oct. 8, Carroll will take on Henry at 6 p.m. at Owen County for the opening round of 31st District play. The winner will play Owen in the championship game Thursday at 6 p.m.
The Lady Panthers split games this season with Henry, losing 4-3 on Aug. 20 in a penalty kick shoot-out at home, and then winning 3-0 on Aug. 30 for the team’s only win of the season.