November 3rd, 2018

CHAMPS! Valkyries win first soccer state title since 2015

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Conor Revell

Managing Editor


CHAMPS! Valkyries win first soccer state title since 2015
Sacred Heart poses with the state championship trophy / photo by Conor Revell

LEXINGTON, Ky. - A new soccer coach is roaming Lexington Road, but the dynasty continues.

Sacred Heart defeated Highlands 2-1 at Frederick Douglass High Saturday night to win their first KHSAA soccer state title in three years.

“The talent is an obvious factor, but this team has been busting their butts for me since July 15th,” Sacred Heart head coach Libbey Smith said. “They have been like whatever they go to do, they do it, and get it done. They show up early and they show up late. Anything that we ask, they’re a team. A true team and that has made them really special.”

Estelle Gabriel was the hero for the Valkyries - she blasted a free-kick from 30 yards out on the left side of the field and the ball sailed into the left corner of the net to make it 2-1 in the 64th minute.

“I had a shot just like this in the last game against West Jessamine in the semifinals,” Estelle said. “The shot was from the right-side on the 18. I was hoping this one on the left side would be lucky enough to pop into the corner and it did and it was the best feeling.”

Gabriel’s goal proved to be the game winner.

The two blue-bloods had already played twice this season, Sacred Heart (25-1-1) won both making this a rare third win over the same opponent.

It was a battle of new coaches - Smith is in her first-year and previously held the same position at Oldham County High - Dean was a member of the boys staff as an assistant at Highlands (23-5) a year ago.

The win is the Valkyries sixth state title in school history, only one behind South Oldham who last won a title four years ago.

Some of the seniors on this team were freshman when Sacred Heart won the state title three years ago.

“It feels good to win especially after the last two years,” senior Ashley Durik said. “We lost two very close games that went into PKs. To have it all come together like this feels awesome. Being able to play in two state championships and being able to win both is a really great feeling.”

Ironically, Smith play at South Oldham from 2000-04 and played under current Sacred Heart assistant Cy Tucker won all seven championships for the Crestwood school.

Smith was a member of the 2000 and 01 state title program under the guidance of Tucker, but wasn’t on the team.

“I would credit Cy with pretty much every single thing I know about soccer and about coaching,” Smith said. “He is an incredible mentor because he did whatever it takes when I said I wanted to be a coach. He said alright and took me under his wings and let me learn while he was still in-charge and that meant a lot.”

Durik and Gabriel scored for the Valkyries while Kenzie Nehus scored for Highlands.

Both of Sacred Heart’s goals were from far-out taking advantage of Bluebird goalkeeper Maggie Hinegardner size with long shots.

“One of the strengths of our senior class is those long shots,” Smith said. “We didn’t talk about taking more long shots. It was a natural thing. We didn’t talk about her size at all. She’s a good keeper and sometimes you need to get in closer when you play a good keeper.”

Durik blasted a shot from the top of the 18 and placed the ball in the lower left side of the goal to put the Valkyries up 1-0 in the ninth minute of the first-half.

“I won the ball the on the left side of the 18,” Durik said. “I dribbled across and saw a window to shoot it and it went into the bottom left corner of the goal.”

Nehus scored the equalizer when she headed in an assist from Maria Broering in the 14th minute of the opening half.

“That goal was really tough on us because we had been so excited that Ashley had scored the first goal,” Sacred Heart goalkeeper Amanda Isaacs said. “That made us very nervous. But, my dad tells me always to forget about it when somebody scores on you. I tried to forget about it and told myself we still had a full half to play and a bunch of opportunities for us.”

Lindsey Meyer nearly put the Bluebirds up 2-1 in the 25th minute, but her shot hit the left-post, and Sacred Heart was able to clear it.

“We kind of got on them at halftime,” Smith said. “We talked about this is what we need to do and we really need to make sure we’re doing it. I think that break at halftime and ability to remind them of what was important allowed them to come back out and be strong.”

Gabriel then made her heroic shot.

“I think we’re a state championship team because of the people on this team,” Gabriel said. “Everything is for the team. We love each other so much and we’re always trying to make each other look better and help each other. It’s a joy to be with each other.”

Sacred Heart fired 16 shots at Hinegardner (eight saves) and had seven corners.

Highlands took nine shots at Isaacs (two saves) and had two corners.

“They play a game which is tough for us to defense,” Isaacs said. “We had to make sure we talked as a defense. Communication was key. We had to make sure that we possessed to get around that.

The game was a perfect way for the Valkyries to cap off a special season - their lone loss was to Simon Kenton, a team they beat in the Semi-State Four game - and the tie was against Christian Academy.

Durik, who is headed to Cornell next season, capped off a great season with 31 goals and nine assists.

“She’s a very special player,” Smith said. “She’s so talented and I know she’s going to go on to be very successful in whatever she does. She has an ability that few have, because she’s just gets it when it comes to what she’s supposed to be doing.”  

The perfect ending to a great high school career that started out with a goal in the first game of her freshman season.

If you’re hoping Sacred Heart will fall off the map after this year, think again, there were only seven seniors on this team, meaning the dynasty will look to continue.

 

 

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