Russell on right track
BY MATTHEW SPARKS
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
FLATWOODS Russell has engineered its best soccer of the season at the right time. Estill County experienced the full force of a re-energized group of Lady Devils on a chilly and brisk Saturday afternoon.
Russell heated up offensively last week at the 16th Region Tournament and the surge carried over into its match with the Lady Engineers. The Lady Devils tallied twice in the 17th minute and added two more by halftime in a convincing 6-0 win in the opening round of the state tournament at the Russell Soccer Complex.
“The coaching staff and I have talked about our regular season and we chalked it up to game experience,” Russell coach John Perry said. “We knew the talent we had on this team. We knew what it could be. They have put it together when they needed to.”
The familiar surroundings helped the Lady Devils adjust to the big stage. Russell is no stranger to postseason success with 13 region titles. The program now has four round-of-16 victories at the state tournament in the last five seasons. But after an early exit last year, it left many on the roster without deep playoff experience.
“We had a great start,” Perry said of Saturday’s match. “Lena Blanke and (keeper) Raegan Williams have been to a state tournament a couple of times, but the majority of the girls have not been to this stage. It is great that we have an opportunity to start fresh after last year. It’s a good feeling.”
Russell struck quickly in the 17th minute. The Lady Devils were awarded a corner kick and Ava Quinn booted the ball into the box. Kyndall DuVall fought for some separation and sent it through a crowd to start the Lady Devils' scoring. Quinn capitalized on a penalty kick seconds later.
The tally was the first of the season for DuVall. Quinn increased her total to 10. Russell has had multiple contributors during this year’s slate, but that number continues to rise as the season progresses.
“It takes some pressure off Lena that she doesn’t have to go out and score every goal when we get everybody involved,” Perry said. “We have a lot of firepower on our team. We have a dynamic offense scheme. When it all clicks and comes together as it did today, it’s exciting to watch.”
Russell (6-8-2) received four firsthalf goals from four different players. Blanke recorded her first goal of the night with five minutes remaining in the opening half.
Haley Addis collected the ball in the box, fought off a defender and dished it to Blanke. The senior’s shot glanced off an Estill County player but still had enough force to find the back of the net. Blanke found her sister, Eva, on the other side of the box with a cross and the freshman guided it into the twine to give the Lady Devils a 4-0 advantage at intermission.
The Lady Engineers were playing in their ninth match of the season after missing nearly a month of the 2020 campaign due to COVID-19 cancellations. The team went 36 days between wins but rattled off three straight postseason victories.
Estill County (4-5) lost its keeper and back-up with injuries in the region semifinals and played the state tournament game with a goalkeeper that had never played the position before the region final. The team even lost her for a brief period when she left the match with an ankle injury.
“We started good but the way the game was going, it wasn’t in our favor,” Estill County coach Gary Beeler said. “The girls started dropping their heads a little bit.”
“These girls have had a rough season,” he added. “We only had eight games total (before today), and that is including the region championship. We still had a lot of growing to do and we had to grow fast. We have some girls that it’s their first year playing. When they scored early, I could see our energy leaving.”
Quinn picked up another assist with a corner kick midway through the second half. It found Lena Blanke and she directed the ball into the net for her 24th tally of the year. Ryan Blanke joined the family scoring affair with a goal in the 70th minute.
On the other side to field, Russell’s new offensive outburst has complemented a Lady Devils defense that has allowed one goal in its last four matches.
“Through the postseason, two of the linchpins for our defense is our two center backs,” Perry said. “Jenna Adkins has been tremendous. She is a dynamo on the basketball court which helps her on the soccer pitch. Promise Burnham gives us everything she’s got every game. I would put those two, along with Raegan in the goal, up against anybody in my opinion.”
Russell will host undefeated North Laurel in the Elite Eight tonight at 7 p.m. The Lady Jaguars also recorded a 6-0 win over Prestonsburg to advance to the state tournament quarterfinals.