The Lady Lakers’ soccer team struggled to a 3-11 record last season and lost a heartbreaker in the first round of the District 16 Tournament, falling to Clinton County in penalty kicks.
Four seniors graduated from that 2021 squad, and only four starters return this season. The outlook might not appear promising—at least on the surface. Head coach Cheryl Newby, however, sees plenty of reasons for optimism as she begins her first full season leading the program.
“We are a young team, but very fierce competitors,” Newby says. “Their soccer knowledge and dedication will make us compete with any team on our schedule or in our district.”
The early results indicate that Newby is right, and that the program is improving. Just three games into this season, Russell County is already one-third of the way to last year’s win total. After a pair of losses in the team’s opening two contests, the Lady Lakers picked up a win at home Monday (Aug. 15), a 2-1 victory over Monroe County.
The hope is that this improvement continues. Russell County has never won a girls’ soccer district championship—not in the program’s first stint from 2002 to 2007, and not since its reinstatement in 2020. This fact is not lost on Newby, nor her players.
“The four returning starters have grown in a year’s time and have earned their starting positions back,” Newby says. “They want to prove they are stronger and more determined to finish this time around at district on top.”
One luxury Newby will enjoy this year is greater depth and roster flexibility than Lady Lakers’ teams of the past. The returning veterans are joined by a talented group of younger players ready to make an impact at the varsity level. Freshman Jasmine Bennett has earned the starting goalkeeper nod, and several more up-and-comers will either start or see significant playing time as a reserve.
“Our biggest strength will be having strong players coming off our bench,” the coach says. “Some are just as strong as our starters. We will also have several players that can play more than one position. Being versatile is a huge strength.”
From a tactical standpoint, Newby has installed an aggressive gameplan that relies on long passes, smart spacing, and speed up top.
“On offense, we use through and long balls for a direct attack,” Newby explains. “We try to quickly move the ball into scoring range with long passes to our forwards from our mids and defenders looking for a weakness in the opponent’s defense line. On defense, we play more of a zone/support, but on-ball pressure and attacking.”
A week into the season, it’s too early to accurately predict the end result. Is a district title within reach? Will last year’s disappointing postseason repeat itself in 2022? Time will tell, but Newby is not shy about the goal.
“I always tell them, ‘It’s not talent that we lack—we have that—it’s learning how to put 11 girls’ talents all together at the same time, adapt and play with the same intensity,’” Newby says. “My goal is for us to have confidence that we are a strong team. Go out there every game and show it, leave it all on the field with no regrets.”
What’s understood doesn’t need to be explained, and Newby could have stopped right there. She did not however, erasing all doubt about her team’s ambitions.
“We want that first high school soccer district title.”
The County Line’s Russell County sports coverage is brought to you by Blake Aaron—Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance.