PARK HILLS, Ky. -- Notre Dame Academy soccer player Kylie Long thinks her team has come together this season in the face of one setback after another.
Four Notre Dame soccer players have been lost to injury so far -- three of them for the season. Most recently, the Pandas lost senior Sidney Spivey, the team's leading scorer, for the rest of the season during a 10-0 win over Conner Oct. 1.
“It's been extremely difficult to watch so many talented players get injured this season,” said Long, a junior. “Although it's been a challenge, I think it's been a great test of our character and strength as a team. It has really helped us come together as a whole and work our hardest to reach our team goals for this season.”
The biggest of those goals was a state title and although the road will be tougher without some key players, the Pandas (14-6-1) aren’t giving up on that one. Notre Dame will host Covington Latin (1-9) at 5 p.m. Monday in the 35th District opener. Beechwood (10-9) and Holy Cross (6-6-2) will face off in the other 35th District game at 8 p.m. Monday at Beechwood and the district final will be played at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Notre Dame.
“I definitely think there is a chance to make a run,” Notre Dame coach David Gronotte said. “As they’ve seen four of their starters go down, mentally that’s tough for them to overcome. I’ve told them from the beginning of the year that we are really deep. We have a lot of talent on this team from top to bottom. We don’t have a huge gap in talent. It’s just a matter of going out and executing. I still think there is a lot of potential for this group.”
The potential remains because other players have taken up the slack for the injured starters. Long moved into a defensive back position for senior defender Riley Shelton, who is trying to work her way back from an ankle injury. Junior Morgan Dickhaus stepped in at center midfield for junior Allison Robertson, who is out for the season. Freshman Ellie Hellmann and junior Audrey Muck have platooned in place of senior midfielder Sarah Schuh, who is also out for the season.
“I knew I had big shoes to fill and had to work 10 times harder,” Dickhaus said. “It was tough at first because I knew how well the injured players had played every time they stepped foot on the field. But that motivated me to push myself and play for them since they were unable to play.”
Long said she dealt with some nervousness at first, but worked that into something positive.
“As difficult as it was to watch so many of our players get hurt, I knew my team was depending on me to step up and give my best effort,” Long said. “I was ready and willing to do anything to help my team succeed and I felt my hard work had prepared me for this opportunity.”
Sophomore Maya Decker was the latest Pandas player to make a difference on the field in place of an injured starter. Decker was called up from the junior varsity team -- where she had played as a defender -- when Spivey went down. Gronotte and his staff put her at left wing during a 2-1 win over Newport Central Catholic Oct. 3 and the left-footer scored her first varsity goal.
“She has some good quickness and when she got the ball wide, she was able to beat her defender and continue to put the ball in the middle of the box to give us chances to score,” Gronotte said.
Decker had no problem changing positions.
“I had that conversation with her before the game,” Gronotte said. “We knew she had the ability to attack. That’s what she does really well on JV out of that left back position is move up and attack. That’s a big game to get her into and she made an impact right away.”
Decker’s play on the wing will be especially crucial in the postseason without the Pandas’ leading goal-scorer. So the biggest question facing Notre Dame will be whether the team can continue to score goals.
Players are confident they can.
“I think the outlook is great for us,” Dickhaus said. “We need to maintain our health and stay focused on each individual game and try not to worry about the future. Most importantly, we need to play as a team, against all odds.”
Long added: “Our strength of character will definitely be put to the test and I know we're ready for the challenge.”