Manual star Ekic out with ACL injury
Dominating with defense last year, the Sacred Heart Academy soccer team is expected to be more offensive-minded this season.
That’s the plan of Valkyries coach Jaclyn Puntillo, whose squad set state records with 22 total shutouts and 12 straight to close a state-championship season in 2015.
“Our attack will probably be stronger this year than last year,” Puntillo said. “Last year we really struggled with being slow in our transition from defense to offense. I think this group will excel with that but probably not be as defense-minded.”
Sacred Heart finished 22-4-1 last season after defeating Lexington Catholic in the state final. Ranked No. 16 in the USA Today preseason Super 25, the Valkyries will open their season at 7 p.m. Monday by hosting Lexington Catholic in a rematch of the state final.
The Valkyries lost three of the four defenders off a back line that surrendered just seven goals last season. Erin Herbert returns – as does senior goalkeeper Sarah Stodghill – but Puntillo said the other starters on defense are undecided.
“I think our most immediate need was at center back, and I think we’ve found that with sophomore Addy Lancaster,” Puntillo said. “We have several other sophomores and juniors who are fairly proficient outside backs. … It won’t be so much a technical issue that we’re missing this year. It will be a lack of game experience.”
The Valkyries return three of their top five scorers from last season in junior Cassie Amshoff (11 goals, six assists), sophomore Ashley Durik (11 goals, 13 assists) and senior Sarah Buse (10 goals, 15 assists). Buse has committed to Alabama-Birmingham. Amshoff and junior midfielder Kiley Polk (six goals, five assists) have committed to the University of Louisville.
Here’s a look at other Louisville-area programs (note: several schools did not respond to a request for information):
* Bullitt East (16-8-2 last year) was the regional runner-up last year and returns senior forward Christian Foster, who scored 59 goals and has committed to Eastern Kentucky University. Senior midfielder Amy Gentry (six goals, five assists) and senior defenders Kelsey Castle and Megan Lancaster are other key players.
* Butler (11-6-3) returns its top scorer from last season in junior forward Salina Perla (24 goals, 11 assists).
* Holy Cross (8-7-1) will be led by senior midfielder Grace Thomson, junior midfielders Madison Turner (14 goals, 12 assists) and Alexandra Harshfield and junior defender Ann Oakley.
* Mercy (11-12-2), which has won four straight regional titles, has a new coach in Tim Nowak. The Jaguars will be led by senior forward Taylor Hedges (21 goals, nine assists), senior midfielder Arielle Greiner, senior defender Natalie Francis and junior forward Bailey Locke (13 goals, six assists).
* North Bullitt (15-6-2) returns one of the region’s top scorers in junior midfielder Katlyn Andres (35 goals, 19 assists). Other key players are junior midfielder Ally Johnson (15 goals, 10 assists), junior goalkeeper Delayna Holman, sophomore forward Amber Gore and sophomore defender Jessica Eisenback.
* Pleasure Ridge Park (10-9-1) returns a trio of solid seniors in forwards Hanna Watson (13 goals, five assists) and Madisan Wrenn (nine goals, three assists) and midfielder Autumn Fryrear (five goals, eight assists).
* Assumption (16-6-3), the regional runner-up the past two years, has a new coach in Andrew Quinn. Senior midfielder McKenzie Riggs is the top returnee after posting six goals and seven assists and earning second-team All-State honors last year.
* Atherton (12-9) returns a pair of senior central midfielders in Karan Avalos (nine goals, six assists) and Leah Barnes. Junior defender Katherine Shishmanian and sophomore forward Holly Blansette are other top players.
* Ballard (6-10-1) has a new coach in Steve Cunningham, who will rely on senior defender Christa Curtis, junior defender Kaitlyn Gordon, junior midfielder Sara Kerpenstein (eight goals, two assists) and sophomore defender Destiny Wampler.
* Christian Academy (10-9) has a young team led by junior defender Ellen Joss, sophomore midfielder Olivia Warren, sophomore defender Clair Ashley and sophomore forward/midfielder Anna Pohlman (eight goals).
* Collegiate (15-4) will be led by seniors Regan Kommor and Ann Boyer. Kommor has committed to Alabama-Birmingham after posting 38 goals and 18 assists and earning second-team All-State honors last year.
* Eastern (12-7-2) has a new coach in Amanda Weber. She will rely on seniors Emma Turcotte and Taryn Long, juniors Arianna Mendez and Irie Snider and sophomore Abby Wafford. Mendez posted 30 goals and 12 assists last season.
* Kentucky Country Day (4-12) returns senior midfielder Rachel Jennings (five goals, seven assists) and junior midfielder Grace Bruns (five goals, six assists).
* Male (15-7) returns five starters from the team that reached the regional semifinals last year – senior midfielders Sydney Mattingly and Alex Cummins (nine goals), senior defender Taylor Brown, junior defender Abby Cason and junior forward Jenna Ray (16 goals).
* Manual (15-5) has a new coach in Sheri Kiser and is dealing with an injury to its top player. Senior forward Ekic suffered a torn ACL during the spring and will miss at least the first half of the season. Ekic, who has committed to U of L, was a named the Courier-Journal Metro Louisville Female Athlete and Girls Soccer Player of the Year and was voted a first-team all-state selection last year after posting 23 goals and 15 assists. Junior Isabella Zamborini (10 goals, 10 assists) and sophomore Jolene Ballard (seven goals, four assists) will be counted on for scoring in Ekic’s absence.
* Waggener (3-10-1) hopes to improve under first-year coach Denise O’Donnell.
* Collins (4-12-3) has a new coach in Steven Nash and returns its top scorer from last season in sophomore forward Braelyn Gantt (10 goals).
* North Oldham (6-11-2) has a new coach in Jair Trivino, who will rely on senior center back Maddie Mandoza, junior goalkeeper Katelyn Kellogg, senior midfielder Emma Boyd, sophomore midfielder Grace Holleman and sophomore defender Elizabeth Bowley.
* Oldham County (16-8) was the regional runner-up last year and returns its top scorer in junior forward Olivia Stanley (21 goals, five assists). Libbey Smith is the Colonels’ new coach.
* Shelby County (5-14-2) will be led by seniors Cara Armstrong, Caroline Shy, Kara Marr, Morgan Rood and Taylor Price. Armstrong (nine goals, two assists) is the team captain and top returning scorer.
* South Oldham (11-7-3) has a strong core led by seniors Samantha Reynolds, Averi Faulk and Kendall Brown and sophomores Heavyn O’Connell and Lizzie Klehr (seven goals).
* Spencer County (3-14) will be led by senior forwards Jenna Russell and Cailey Meredith (13 goals) and junior midfielder Morgan Lurie.
HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS SOCCER
* Defending state champion: Sacred Heart.
* Season begins: Monday.
* District tournaments begin: Oct. 10.
* State tournament: Oct. 24-Nov. 5 at various sites.