GIRLS' PREP SOCCER: Top-ranked Sacred Heart downs Lady Panthers (10/6)

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By Nathaniel Bryan

Playing against the program she grew up dreaming of playing for, Abigail Zoeller came home Saturday afternoon. And the host Elizabethtown Lady Panthers’ winning streak came to an end.

Louisville Sacred Heart’s assist leader was held in check, but Zoeller and the top-ranked Valkyries still pulled away from the No. 18 Lady Panthers, 3-1 in a game called with 22:57 left in the second half because of a second lightning delay.

Zoeller is the 14-year-old daughter of former Lady Panthers coach Rob Zoeller. Considered the architect of the area’s premier girls’ soccer dynasty, Rob won the region tournament all seven seasons he was in charge at Elizabethtown. In that span (2001-05, 2007-08), he also won six district tournament titles, advanced to the state tournament elite eight twice and won 78.6 percent of his matches (125-26-8).

“She really shot up,” Elizabethtown senior midfielder Jesse Giles said of Abigail. “She’s tall compared to what I remember about her when she was little.”

When she was little herself, Giles played on an under-9 team coached by Rob.

“I got to say hi to him when the game got called the first time,” Giles said of the 69-minute lightning stoppage midway through the first half. “It was good to get to see him again.”

Abigail’s youngest sister, 8-year-old Emma, was born in Elizabethtown. All of the Zoeller girls – Abigail, 12-year-old Madeline and Emma – started school while living in Elizabethtown.

“It was great coming back to see all the people I know, but I was a nervous wreck,” said Abigail, who has 13 assists and eight goals in her first 16 varsity matches. “Playing against them was a little hard.”

Elizabethtown (11-8) knew playing against the Valkyries (13-0-3) would be hard, considering Sacred Heart entered having won 17 straight regular-season matches against in-state competition. Coincidentally, Elizabethtown is the last Kentucky team to beat them in the regular season.

Plus, the Valkyries hadn’t been scored on since Sept. 17 in a 5-1 rout of Louisville DuPont Manual in the Lexington Catholic Cup.

Sacred Heart’s clean-sheet streak came to an end in the opening 10 minutes as Elizabethtown sophomore Rebecca Black pounced on a defensive miscue and tucked the ball away into an open net for her 13th goal of the year. Six of those goals have come in her five-game scoring streak.

“That was pretty exciting,” Elizabethtown leading scorer Dani Wilson said of having a lead against the Valkyries, a feat many teams haven’t been able to achieve this year. “For her to know the goalie was going to clear it like that and for her to have the positioning, that was a perfect goal.”

However, that was Elizabethtown’s only shot on goal as the Lady Panthers were outshot 18-0 the remaining 41 minutes. Part of the reason for that is Elizabethtown swamped its 18-yard box, leaving Wilson alone up top while dropping its other nine field players within 30 yards of the goal.

“I thought we had a good game plan, but they’re No. 1 for a reason and we couldn’t exhibit it was much as we wanted,” Wilson said.

With Elizabethtown battening down the hatches, Sacred Heart took aim from long range. Less than 8 minutes after falling behind, freshman midfielder Erin Herbert notched the equalizer on a shot from outside the box.

Herbert’s goal came right before the storm, which postponed the game from 2:53 to 4:02 p.m.

Less than 8 minutes after play resumed, the Valkyries struck again from long range as senior midfielder Lauren Brewer buried a shot from more than 30 yards out.

With Elizabethtown having to loosen up a bit, Sacred Heart got an insurance goal in the opening 10 minutes of the second half as junior midfielder Annie Heironimus found junior midfielder Lauryn Westman in the box.

“We knew we couldn’t go toe-to-toe with them,” said Elizabethtown coach Pat Black, whose team had allowed just one goal in its four-game win streak. “Player for player, they were loaded with guns.”

UP NEXT: Elizabethtown plays at North Hardin at 7 p.m. Monday.

Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at 270-505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.