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MOUNT WASHINGTON - The Bullitt East Lady Chargers will be the Iron Ladies this season under new head coach Richard Carver.
The biggest difference in the highest levels of soccer and the sport at the high school level is the substitutions allowed in a game. Professional teams are allowed only three substitutions while high school and college squads have unlimited substitutions, but at limited times.
Carver wants to see less subbing and more soccer.
“We want them to play a whole game without a sub,” Carver said as his team began a practice late last week in preparation for starting the season this week. “They need that stamina. Fitness has not been an expectation of the program. We do a lot of fitness training.
“I’ll just play 11 or 12,” the new coach added. “I’ve already told the parents that. I sub very little.”
Bullitt East is coming off one of the best seasons in the program’s history. The team went 17-4-2, beating North Bullitt 3-0 early in the Ninth District Tournament before falling as is so often the case to Nelson County 3-1 in the tournament semi-finals.
Last year’s team scored an incredible 123 goals, the sixth highest total in state history. Junior Lexi Higginbotham returns after scoring 44 goals a year ago, the third-highest total in Kentucky.
While Higginbotham does return, the Lady Chargers will have to do some serious rebuilding under Carver. The team has only three seniors after losing 11 players from graduation a year ago.
Carver is well aware that the future for the program is very bright, but it might take some time to get all the major pieces to mesh.
The new coach has grown up around soccer. He started playing in the old Bullitt County Youth League before playing in the Louisville Soccer Association before there was soccer at Bullitt Central. He had a scholarship offer to Western Kentucky, but opted to walk-on at the University of Louisville, a program that at the time was nowhere near the top ranked team in the country as it is now.
After playing for the Cardinals in 1983 and 1984, Carver got married and moved into the ministry. That took him around the state. He is presently the pastor at South Jefferson Baptist Church in Valley Station and is working on his doctorate at the Southern Baptist Seminary.
He started coaching in 1996 at Mockingbird Valley and later was the co-founder of the LaRue County Youth Soccer League and the River City Indoor League. From 2005 to 2007 he was the assistant coach at Union County and after moving back to Bullitt County, was the junior-varsity coach at Christian Academy.
Because the family settled back into Bullitt County when he took the job at South Jefferson Baptist Church, his daughter Jessica has been playing at Bullitt East. When the head coaching position came open in the spring, Carver contacted Bullitt East athletic director Bob Blackburn and took the job.
For his first season, Carver kept 34 players, assigning 19 to the varsity and 19 to the junior-varsity (three play for both).
“We lost those 11 seniors so we are a pretty young team,” Carver pointed out. “Only one of the seniors is going to start. We are going to start three freshmen.”
The new coach is rebuilding the program from the foundation. Carver wants to be strong on offense, which the team was last season, but he wants to come at it from a different perspective. Last year’s team made long passes and chased down the ball, but now Carver wants to be ball possession with short, intricate passes out of a 4-4-2 alignment.
“The first four weeks were pretty tough,” Carver said of the early practices. “Then in our scrimmage with Taylor County they sort of reverted back to that in the first half and only got six shots. We talked about it at halftime and we got back to possession and they had 13 shots on goal in the second half.”
One obvious spot where there is inexperience is in goal where freshman Kyra Banta steps between the pipes. She did the job for the junior-varsity last season, but she did not play for the varsity (middle school students cannot play varsity soccer). Carver has enough confidence in Banta that he did not mention a back-up for her.
In front of Banta, the defense will be led in the middle by sophomores Alicia Schwenker and Meghan Roby while junior Hannah Wilson will be on the left side with junior Kelsey Miles on the right. Depth for the defense will come from freshmen Amanda Riposo and Kayla Buckler.
The midfield has the only senior starter as the coaches’ daughter, Jessica Carver will be in the middle alongside freshman Elizabeth Hatter. On the wings of the midfield will be junior Katie Lancaster and junior Jessie Hottois.
Up front, the offense will be driven by Higginbotham and she will play next to freshman Alnee Tutson.
Bullitt East is getting more and more players who have grown up with the sport in leagues in Louisville and with competitive squads in Elizabethtown or Louisville.
“We have a good quality team,” Carver said before expanding on that. “I think in two years we could have a state contending team. We have some very good players coming up.”
Bullitt East will open the season on Monday when they play host to Providence, one of the top teams in Indiana. That squad was the only one to shut-out Bullitt East last season, winning 7-0. The Lady Chargers do not play their county rivals until after Labor Day. The red and gold also face all three of the strong Nelson County schools in September.