GIRLS SOCCER: Lady Knights set for breakout season

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By Gerard Flanagan

The Marion County Lady Knights have spent the past three seasons steadily progressing back to the top of the region.

Last season, the Lady Knights were a heartbeat away from a chance to win the district title and compete in the region tournament. It was not to be, as Taylor County delivered Marion County a crushing defeat in the district tournament.

Ten months later, Marion County is finally poised for a breakthrough season. The Lady Knights are explosive on offense. They are stout on defense. They have arguably the best goalkeeper in the region. All are ingredients for a successful 2019 campaign, the third season for Head Coach Daniel Johnson.

“Just keep improving each day,” Johnson said, “and by the end of the season, hopefully we’re playing our best soccer, and we’ve put ourselves in a position to make a pretty good run in the postseason.”

In addition to a wealth of talent, the Lady Knights also possess a wealth of experience, as 17 players return off last year’s team. Nine of 10 players who scored last season also return this season, including three who scored double-digit goals last season. Madi Hardin scored a team-best 16 goals last season. Libby Palagi, one of eight seniors on the team, was second in goals scored at 13. Palagi missed the final three games — including the district tournament game against Taylor County — after sustaining a toe injury against LaRue County on Sept. 26.

“It was heartbreaking. I just wanted to go out there so bad,” Palagi said.

Palagi, Isabella Chesser, Cheyenne Raikes, Savannah Chapman, Ireland Cassidy, Anna Kate Hardin, Katie Mattingly and Laura Livers are seniors for the Lady Knights this season.

“I almost didn’t play freshman year because I thought it would be too hard,” Cassidy said. “Now, I have no regrets joining the team and staying with it all four years. I just wish I had started earlier.”

The Lady Knights will have Taylor Richardson in the goal this season. Coach Johnson firmly believes Richardson will be the top goalie in the Fifth Region this season.

“She’ll keep us in a lot of games that, if anybody else were back there, probably wouldn’t happen,” Johnson said. “It’s not that she’s a great goalkeeper, which she is. She’s got a lot of help in front of her, and that’s what makes her even better than she is.”

Hardin, Katie Beth Brady, Mattingly and Ava Drury will form the back line of defense in front of Richardson. The Marion County defense allowed only 28 goals — or 1.5 per game — last season. The Lady Knights never allowed more than three goals in a game last season.

Brady had knee surgery in February, and according to Johnson, she’s still not 100 percent, though he said he anticipates she will be able to start the season.

“She’s still going to be the anchor of our defense,” he said. “With her kind of flux, not sure what we’re going to get out her. I still expect her to play at a pretty high level.”

Johnson has been working with Delaney Hammond to fill in for Brady, if needed.

“If Katie Beth needs a break, we can move her in, and she’s had a really good offseason,” Johnson said. She’ll give us some good minutes.”

Marion County scrimmaged Grayson County last night, and will scrimmage Sayre on Friday.