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Lady Knights’ girls soccer Head Coach Neil Payne wasn't exactly dealt a fair hand this season.
Preseason injuries are a factor right now, as they could be for any team. The major blow he's suffered is the loss of three core players due to transfers.
Sabrina and Stephanie Tom transferred to Hazard. Hillary Payne is now attending Central Hardin High School. Despite losing some of his would-be best players, Payne maintains a positive attitude.
Rather than spending time talking about who was gone, Payne focuses on who remains.
Seniors Christian Montgomery, Raven Blair and Katie Thomas return with the most experience. Juniors Christine Mattingly and Annaliece Mattingly are two key players as well.
Payne said last year's newcomers Cassie Clark and Roya Headley will also be contributors on this squad. Both seniors, the girls have only one year of experience under their belts.
"I have some underclassman that should play some key roles," he said. "Lauren Brussel (sophomore) and Murphy Thompson (junior) are returning starters. Ann Thomas Daugherty (freshman) will have a big year once she fully recovers. She'll be pretty big for me. Also, Claire Hagan (freshman), she's out right now. Ann will see a lot of time and Claire will be the JV keeper and back up for the varsity keeper."
Inexperience will be the main factor, if any, that will hold back the Lady Knights this season.
"We're very young. We're going to be breaking in a bunch of new players and players who have seen little or no varsity action," Payne said. "We'll take our lumps but hopefully we'll continually get better every day. By the end of the season we hope to be in games with teams that top to bottom will be better. We have a group that works hard and has a willingness to learn and that will hopefully keep us in a lot of games."
With Boyle County a top 20 team in the state, they look poised to run away with the district title. Second place, however, appears to be wide open.
"In the district I think Boyle County is head and shoulders above everybody. But it's early so anything can happen," Payne said. "It could be a battle for the second spot. Danville hasn't gotten the turnout they usually get, they're kind of down. Mercer is on the same level as us as a team that's rising but hasn't gotten there yet. Garrard and Taylor both went through coaching changes. It's very tough in any sport to have a change in coaches and not have some kind of lapse. I think outside of Boyle County it could be a competitive district."
The Lady Knights will get a piece of Boyle County early on as they host the district favorites on Saturday.
Payne said the team's goal for this season and all other seasons has been to make it to the district final, in order to advance to the region tournament.
"My main goal is that I want all my players, especially those returning next year, to be better. I try to make everybody better everyday," Payne said.
The Lady Knights began their season Monday at John Hardin. They host Boyle County on Saturday at 3 p.m.