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Walton-Verona girls’ soccer team looking forward to first appearance in small-school state tournament

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

After losing seven starters on last year’s team to graduation, Walton-Verona girls’ soccer coach Patrick Luken patched together a lineup for this season by moving some players to new positions and relying on sophomores to fill most of the other vacancies.

Walton-Verona soccer players named to the 8th Region All “A Classic all-tournament team were (left to right): senior striker Blair Williams, junior defender Megan Wells and sophomore goalkeeper Megan Kunkle.

The combination that Luken came up has done remarkably well. The Bearcats have an 8-4-1 record and earned a berth in the All “A” Classic small-school state tournament for the first time in the history of the program.

Walton-Verona will play Murray at 11 a.m. Saturday in the opening round of the eight-team girls’ state tournament at Capitol View Park in Frankfort.

As a first-time state qualifier, Luken said there should be no pressure whatsoever on his players going into Friday morning’s game.

“We’re just going to show up and give it everything we’ve got,” he said. “Hopefully, at the end of the day we can get a second game out of it.”

Walton-Verona won the All “A” Classic 8th Region championship for the fifth consecutive year and then defeated Louisville Collegiate, 2-0, in the sectional playoffs to get to the state tournament.

That was an emotional victory for the Bearcats after losing to Louisville Collegiate by scores of 3-0 and 4-0 in the sectional playoffs the previous two years.

Patrick Luken

“We possessed the ball against them really well and they were never really in the game,” Luken said. “So we knew we were going to win, but it was still that surreal moment when the final whistle blows and (our girls) all throw their hands up and start screaming. It was definitely a special moment for them.”

Two center midfielders – junior Emma Ridener and sophomore Aubrey Lightner – have a lot to do with the Bearcats’ ability to possess and advance the ball against opponents.

“It’s the first time they’ve played together in the middle of the field, but they’ve done a really good job leading the team,” Luken said. “Emma is kind of our captain figure. She runs the show, and she’s doing a great job leading us and pulling all the younger girls together.”

The team’s leading scorer is senior striker Blair Williams. The coach said opponents have a hard time dealing with her breakaway speed.

At the other end of the field, goalkeepers Megan Kunkle and Paige Brock have posted shutouts in six games with the help of a defensive backline that includes junior Megan Wells and sophomore Zarml Patel, who are both first-year starters in defensive positions.

“Our stopper (Patel) never played defense in her life,” Luken said. “We needed someone to play there and the question was, ‘Who’s going to go win the ball for us.’ She put her hand up and said, ‘Coach, I’ll go win the ball.’ She’s still learning on a regular basis, but she’s doing really well.”

Newport Central Catholic also won a sectional playoff game to qualify for the All “A” Classic girls’ state tournament. The Thoroughbreds will play Paintsville in another first-round game at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The boys’ state tournament field includes St. Henry, a 3-1 winner over Calvary Christian in a sectional playoff game on Monday. The Crusaders will play Paintsville in a first-round game at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Capitol View Park multi-field complex.

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