Lady Bearcats have unfinished business

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Childhood teammates in recreation league's Purple Panthers now embark on quest for state title

By John Herndon

It would not be inappropriate if the Anderson County girls' soccer team showed up to play a tournament game wearing purple.

And not because it would be a mix of the red and blue that make up the school colors.

“We were on the Purple Panthers,” Anderson senior Hannah Pritchert says with a smile. “My dad was the coach and just about all of our class was on that team.”

Little did anyone know at the time that the recreation league team in the Anderson Independent Youth Soccer Association would have the nucleus of one of Kentucky's best teams, but a team that has never reached its own lofty goals.

The Purple Panthers went their separate ways, but joined forces again at Anderson County Middle School. Now, 12 years later, the Purple Panthers are Lady Bearcats and, at least for eight seniors, almost every game could be the last.

Anderson was to have started post-season play against Franklin County in the District 25 tournament on Tuesday night after press deadlines. If Franklin was able to pull off the upset, Anderson's season would be over, but if not, the Lady Bearcats will play in the district final on Thursday, Oct. 14 and will move on to next week's regional tournament.

That is no longer the goal, only the stepping stone for a group that has never won a regional tournament game – they were eighth-graders when Anderson was within a whisker of winning its first regional crown, only to lose in overtime of the 2006 title game. And even though they have a pair of key injuries, the Lady Bearcats feel this can be their year.

“I do think we can win the region, because we know we can keep up with any team and all know what each other can do,” says senior Madison Carter, the team's leading scorer.

“I am pretty positive we can if we play like we can,” adds senior Abby Prater.

“We need to bring our 'A' game,” Pritchert adds.

Tuesday, Anderson coach Jason Earnest was hoping the Lady Bearcats had that sense of urgency to bring the “A” game in an elimination game against Franklin. While Anderson beat Franklin 4-1 on Sept. 27, Earnest was cautious since junior goalie Emily Mager and junior sweeper Hannah Drury were not expected to play.  Couple that with the fact that Franklin is the only program to knock an Earnest-coached team out in the district tournament – it happened in 2005 – and he was cautious.

But also optimistic.

“It's realistic,” he says of the team's regional title hope. “In our region, there is not that one team out there that will scare you. We have about five teams that could all win the region.”

And the Lady Bearcats think they are one of them, even with the injuries. Mager, an all-state caliber player, could possibly return during the regional tournament, but that is uncertain.

“I wish it would have happened earlier in the year,” Prater smiled, but (the replacements) are getting better, so that's good.”

“We lost two strong players that we need out there,” Pritchert added. “We all have to pick up the slack.”

Earnest says it is not that easy, even though Mager's replacement, Maddy Ruble, has been better every time out. “Maddy was a midfielder, so when we move her into the net, we also have to have a replacement for her field position. Same with Hannah Drury. We move Abby back there but we would really like to have Abby in the midfield.”

But that does not seem to bother the Lady Bearcats. Injuries or no injuries, they have their sights set on a regional title.

If the Lady Bearcats did advance to the district title game, Earnest was planning on holding Mager out again for rest and to be ready for the regional tournament.

“It just makes us want to play better,” Prather says.

Unfinished business?

“We do have unfinished buisness. we've lost to Henry Clay in the region championship two years in a row, and we're sick of it,” Carter says.

Earnest is never quite comfortable knowing that every game could be the last one of the season. Yet he's confident.

“They definitely feel there is some unfinished business,” he said. “They want to go to the state.”

Lady Bearcats roll past Madison Central, explode on Ballard

Anderson finished its regular season at 15-4-2 with a 4-0 shellacking of Madison Central on Senior Day.. Elizabeth Mason and Taylor Clark both had two goals while Mason had two assists. Clark and Carter both had one.

“We were way too fast for them,” Earnest said.

Last Wednesday, Anderson exploded for four goals in the final 12 minutes to defeat Ballard 6-3.

“We finally figured out their offside trap,” Earnest said. “After we figured it out, it was a track meet. Carter and Clark both scored twice in the final surge. Carter had scored two earlier goals giinver her four on Senior Day.

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.