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Notre Dame, Covington Catholic Advance to State Soccer Finals

Dan Weber writes a sports column for The River City News. Contact him at dweber3440@aol.com.

The Notre Dame Academy Pandas lived up to their part of the bargain Thursday night in Lexington with a 3-0 win over West Jessamine in the semifinals of the Kentucky State Girls High School Soccer tournament.

That victory advances unbeaten and nationally ranked NDA to Saturday’s championship game (7 p.m., Frederick Douglass High School) in what will be an all-Park-Hills championship day doubleheader. In the first game will be that unlikely school from across the Dixie Highway, Covington Catholic, advancing there with a 1-0 win Wednesday over Daviess County.

Three-time champ NDA, in what will be a meeting of Kentucky high school soccer royalty, will face seven-time state champion South Oldham, which advanced earlier with a 5-0 romp over Henderson County.

“That would be really cool,” Cov Cath Coach Jeremy Robertson said of the chance for fans from Northern Kentucky to double up their rooting interests Saturday – Cov Cath against Lexington team Paul Laurence Dunbar (21-3-2) in the first game at 4 p.m. and NDA (27-0-1) in the nightcap against a Louisville-area South Oldham (22-2-0) team that’s won 20 of its last 21. But one of those two losses was a 3-0 home shutout that NDA administered Aug. 16 on its way to a state-record 24 scoreless games allowed.

In Thursday’s semifinal, the Pandas had all the stats going for them as they extended their state shutout record. Not that there was much chance of West Jessamine (16-7-1) scoring. The Colts managed exactly zero shots on goal in this one to Notre Dame’s 13. And just one shot in all to NDA’s 22. The Pandas also had eight corner kicks to West Jessamine’s none.

Still, it was scoreless at halftime before NDA emerged from intermission with a vengeance, scoring three times including the first just 1:53 into the second half. Amber Branum was credited with that one on an assist from Ellie Greenwell.

Then at the 63:40 mark, Kennedy Clark hit one from the top of the box. Marina Ruthsatz finished things off with a dribble into the box on the left side before forcing a save and then finishing it from close range at 67:31. Sarah Henson was credited with the assist.

But as anyone will tell you with a record like this that has NDA ranked as the nation’s No. 4 team by MaxPreps, there are plenty of players to credit. At least a half-dozen NDA players led by senior Natalie Bain have committed to play soccer in college. Bain was named the Player of the Year for Regions 9-16 in Kentucky. Senior leading scorer Macie Feldman was runner-up in the player of the year voting.

Two other Pandas recognized in all-state balloting are senior first-team defender Emma Spivey and honorable mention senior Eleanor Simkonis. But it doesn’t end there. Clark and Ruthsatz are both also set to play in college.

State champions in 2004, 2011 and 2013, NDA faces seven-time state titlist South Oldham, the state’s consensus No. 2 pick in what would seem to be the dream finish for girls soccer fans in Kentucky.

Late-arriving Cov Cath (14-8-5) is finishing up on an eight-game postseason win streak. The Colonels, No. 73 in the state in the RPI rankings after just six regular season wins, might be as unlikely a pick to be in the finals Saturday as Notre Dame was certain to be there.

And yet here the Colonels are, Northern Kentucky’s only boys soccer state champs when they won it all in 2015 (also runner-up the next year), after goalkeeper Carter Eilers pitched a shutout Wednesday.

Dunbar will not only be the favorite as the state’s No. 2 team and playing a home game basically, but the way Cov Cath has been playing in its late streak has Robertson talking about what his star-less team has learned along the way.

“Everybody’s beatable,” he says. At least they have been in Cov Cath’s eight-game finish.

--Dan Weber

Photo: Notre Dame celebrates 9th Region title (via Notre Dame Academy)