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2014 KENTUCKY STANDARD GIRLS' SOCCER PREVIEW: Generals hope defense catches up

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Thomas Nelson girls' soccer preview

By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

Former Nelson County and Georgetown College standout Alex Martin inherited an ideal scenario, taking over the top scoring team in the state when he was tabbed as Thomas Nelson’s girls’ soccer coach.

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And with essentially all of that production returning in the form of a three-headed monster of Claire Hicks, Hannah Medley and the state’s leading scorer the past two seasons, Ashley Ritchie, Martin knows that scoring is one thing he probably won’t have to worry about too much.

“I’ve been very fortunate stepping in” to this situation, he said. “Good players make good coaches. Attacking-wise, we’re probably fine.”

“Fine” is putting it mildly.

Ritchie, now a junior, tallied a gaudy 63 goals (2.9 per game) and 31 assists (1.4 per game), both tops in the state last season. And if it’s not Ritchie making it happen, it’s her classmate, Medley (36 goals, 24 assists), or Hicks (24 goals, 21 assists), a sophomore, getting it done.

“It’s been great” during the first two TNHS seasons, Medley said. “We have a good system up top.”

The trio delivered 123 of the Generals’ 150 goals last season, and they’re not afraid to share the ball. Still, focusing too much on Ritchie could be dangerous for the opposition, and Martin said more people need to be involved in the offense. Junior midfielder Taylor Martin could be in that mix as well.

“We’ve had a lot more pressure put on us,” Ritchie said. “You kind of have to watch all of us.”

But, they won’t be able to fly under the radar anymore, especially with a ramped-up schedule from recent years. The Generals got their first taste of it with a scrimmage against Sacred Heart, last year’s state runner-up.

“Clearly, playing against better teams will make you better,” Alex Martin said. “It’s good for us to see that, to compete against tough competition.”

With all that scoring returning, the 26-year-old Martin — who spent two years as a boys’ assistant at NCHS and two years coaching competitive youth soccer — has spent the majority of preseason practice stressing improvement on defense.

“I wanted to address the defense issue early,” he said. Preseason practices have featured a “square one” approach, conducting one-on-one drills and just getting back to the fundamentals of team defense, communication and staying compact. “They’re very coachable and respond very well to the points I make.”

Overall, he said, the Generals have shown week-by-week progress, which is encouraging.

Senior Anna Rogers figures to be one of the leaders of the Generals defense. She said it’s been hard work closing the gap between the defense and offense, and they’ve been focusing a lot on the midfield in the transition game.

The biggest challenge, she said, is “we need to get more in shape” and work on their physicality.

There is some experience coming back on defense, Martin said, with junior Beth Simpson and sophomore Haleigh Reiter expected to play big roles. Martin hasn’t settled on a goalkeeper to replace the graduated Kristin Cecil yet, but he said he’s got “a couple of different options.”

Last year, the Generals won 19 in a row following a season-opening loss, claiming the top seed in the 19th District tournament. However, they were upset by Bardstown in the first round of the district, 1-0. Rogers said they want to take the next step this season.

“Each year just keeps getting better and better,” she said. “It’s going to be fun to watch.”