Lady Panthers advance in district tourney

Lenoir City High School sophomore Layla Brogdon, right, dribbles past a defender Saturday in the Lady Panthers’ 4-0 win over the Heritage High School Lady Mountaineers.

The Lenoir City High School Lady Panthers soccer team finds itself in the exact same situation as last year after knocking off the Heritage High School Lady Mountaineers 4-0 Saturday in the quarterfinals of the District 4-3A tournament.

The Lady Panthers got off to a hot start early in the first half when sophomore Layla Brogdon scored a goal two minutes in. Freshman Poppy Lowery booted in another goal in the waning seconds to push Lenoir City out to a 2-0 lead at halftime.

Lenoir City’s defense remained strong in the second half as senior Emily Lowe and sophomore Gabriella Rodriguez each added a goal to seal the victory.

“We came out really focused, we started off quick and never kind of let up,” Chris Pickell, LCHS head girls soccer coach, said. “We started it right after kickoff, and the girls were winning 50-50 balls, hustling to the ball, moving the ball well, which is what we have been working on the last few games. It paid off because we were able to move the ball around quite a bit.”

The win marks the team’s 10th this season and is the first time the program has recorded back-to-back 10-win seasons since 2007-08.

The Lady Panthers also defeated Heritage in the quarterfinals of the tournament last year.

“It’s big because we had a goal last year and this year to get 10 wins, and we got 10 wins out of that,” Pickell said. “Out of our district, you’ve got the big three that are pretty tough. Last year we went into overtime with Heritage, tied it with penalty kicks in the tournament, and this year we kind of kept progressing so that was good to see. There’s a lot of growth. We left three games out there that we should have won ... you’ve got a few things here and there and we’ve got 13 wins.”

Pickell noted the overall growth of the program since taking over in 2017. In his first two seasons, the Lady Panthers combined to go 7-24.

In the last two seasons, the Lady Panthers have combined to go 20-14-2.

“Oh yeah, there’s been a tremendous amount of growth,” Pickell said. “We take a lot of pride in developing the players. We don’t have club players like all the other teams in our district have. We get them out of middle school with a good foundation and we keep trying to develop them, and some of them have more experience than others. We try to put that all together in a way that we can win, and it’s more about the girls progressing more than anything. They put in the work to be better and we push them hard.”

The senior class of Sydnie Cziep, Kimberly Huichapa, Emily Lowe, Haley Webster and Ella Wilson all played pivotal roles in helping build the program up the last four years.

“I met some of my closest friends on the team,” Lowe said. “I like how during my freshman year, we weren’t very good. Now, we’ve improved a lot as a team and it’s just an overall great experience. I’m glad I went through it.”

“I agree with Emily with how we started out not doing too good and then we progressed a lot through four years of playing here,” Wilson added. “I had lots of fun.”

The Lady Panthers took on the Maryville High School Lady Rebels Tuesday in the semifinals after News-Herald presstime.

“They’ve got an All-State sophomore and a couple of really good players,” Pickell said. “They’re very athletic and have a very high soccer IQ. We have to put in more work. There’s a lot of different ways you can play it.”