Lady Panthers power through early issues

Lenoir City High School junior Maeley Nixon receives a pass Aug. 5 in the Lady Panthers’ 6-0 win over the Greenback School Lady Cherokees.

Lenoir City High School head girls soccer coach Chris Pickell was looking forward to a smooth start to the season.

So far, it’s been the complete opposite.

The Lady Panthers (1-1) were set to kick off the regular season Aug. 17 against Farragut High School, but the match was called off due to inclement weather. The match has been rescheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 25 at home.

However, the team competed two days later at home against the Carter High School Lady Hornets and clinched an 8-2 victory to move to 1-0.

“We played great against Carter, but we had some that were sick and were missing,” Pickell said. “Layla (Brogdon) didn’t play that game, but we started out pretty strong. We had a little bit of a thunder delay but came out of that break probably ... we scored five in the first half in about 25 minutes or so. We scored two quick pretty early in the second half, took everybody out, put the JV girls in and they scored one to make it eight and they did well playing against the Carter varsity. I was proud of the younger girls for getting in there and playing hard, too.”

The Lady Panthers battled the Alcoa High School Lady Tornadoes on Aug. 24 but came up short in a 1-0 loss.

“We actually didn’t play terrible, but we were missing three players that give us minutes because of sickness and different things,” Pickell said. “We were down three starters — an attacking midfielder, a starting defensive player — and we played pretty good. It was a really even match and we had plenty of opportunities. We gave up a goal on one really kind of breakdown, where they took advantage of it in the first half. We had plenty of shots and moved the ball pretty well, but it was pretty hot for both teams. We had two or three breakaways and could’ve scored four or five goals if we could finish the way we know we can.”

Lenoir City was slated to host the Webb School of Knoxville Lady Spartans on Thursday, but the match was called off for undisclosed reasons. Pickell said the team has recently struggled with COVID-19 contact tracing and illness.

“Our first scrimmage was a little shaky against Morristown West and we really improved a lot against CAK and Oak Ridge, and so we really turned the corner and made a few adjustments,” Pickell said. “We moved some people around, so I was pretty excited. Carter was great but with the schedule kind of getting moved around, it’s been hard on the girls not being able to practice certain days. This week is still kind of influx a little bit, so we’ll see how that goes. Consistency in your training regimen and schedule is key because you get in a rhythm. When school started back, it’s kind of hard to get in a rhythm and they’ve done OK.”

The start of a new school year is always hectic for many teams, but the addition of inclement and hot weather and COVID-19 has presented the Lady Panthers with early adversity.

“It’s more difficult than my freshman year and sophomore year, so it’s new, it’s different,” Maeley Nixon, LCHS junior defender, said. “It’s hard to go from practicing five days a week to then having two games a week and practicing three days. With weekends, we have to kind of chill and then jump back right into Monday with practice. The heat’s for sure been hard, too.”

Despite playing in limited action, the Lady Panthers have impressed the coaching staff with an aggressive offensive and defensive attack.

“We’ve got some good attackers and with the adjustments we’ve made, I think our defense is pretty good,” Pickell said. “They’re all experienced players and we’ve got some pretty decent speed back there. We’ve got a lot of speed up top, our midfielders are kind of new and figuring out those roles, but we’ve got a lot of people that can sub in so it does give us some competitiveness to where they’ve got to compete for playing time, which is what you want. We’ve changed a few things that I think will help us long term.”

The Lady Panthers’ next match will be 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Halls High School.

“I think that we should expect to play the same way that we did last year,” Nixon said. “I think we should go into it thinking we can beat them. Last year was not bad at all compared to previous years, and I think we need to go into the game with a good mindset and just expect to do good things.”