“The fact that we’re from a smaller town, we want to prove ourselves,” midfielder Madeline Kriz said.
That means beating teams from the big cities in tournaments throughout the season and in the state tournament earlier this month in Lexington, where the Lightning was 5-0 and outscored its opponents 23-2.
“Every time we play them it’s exciting, and we always want to beat them, so we wanted it more,” forward Kennedy Collier said.
In the case of this team, that means doing more with less. There are 14 girls on the roster, meaning they are outnumbered by most of their opponents.
“We had 18 at one time and dropped down to 14 this year, and we had two of them hurt and played basically with 12 (in the state tournament),” Danny Collier said.
He said the teams they face typically have 16 to 18 players, but that doesn’t stop the Lightning from forcing a fast pace.
“When we got to tournaments, people that don’t know us will say, ‘Is that all the players they have, and they say, ‘Well, we’re going to kill them,’” he said. “We walk on the field and they’re like, ‘How are they going to last?’ and when we leave they’re talking to our parents, saying, ‘Gosh, we cannot believe your team.’”
Collier, who coaches the team along with Wayne Combs, said speed of play is the one area where the team has improved most since their last trip to the regional.
“They are so fast, and they’ve improved so much in their ball-handling skills. Their fitness is out the roof, and these 12 girls pressure for 40 minutes a half,” he said. “We put the ball in their court. We make them make the mistake, and these guys have perfected that this year to another level. It’s amazing to watch.
“Every tournament we go to, referees, college coaches ... come up, and there’s one thing they always say: They say, ‘Your team is so exciting to watch.’ It’s action-packed the whole time.”
Eleven of the 14 girls — who hail from hail from Boyle, Mercer, Anderson and Jessamine counties — were on the team that won a state championship in the under-14 division two years ago, and some of them say they feel they are better prepared for regional play than they were in 2008.
“We’re taking it more seriously this year,” Kriz said. “We didn’t prepare like we have this time. We were just happy to win state.”
“Practices are much harder, and we’re more focused,” sweeper Taylor Clark added.
The team practices three days a week, and Collier said the girls are much better about practicing and conditioning on their own between those practices.
“The sacrifice and dedication that these guys have, that’s the key, I believe,” he said. “The dedication has just been out the roof, and with the parents as well.”
He said that dedication extends to an unselfish style of play.
“We play for each other and not just for ourselves,” Kennedy Collier said. “We’d rather see our teammates succeed than ourselves.”
The Lightning went 0-2-1 in their regional group two years ago in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“We know what to expect now,” Kennedy Collier said.
They will play teams from Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska in group play Saturday through Monday in the tournament, which features teams from 13 states. They must win their group to advance to the semifinals Tuesday, and the championship is Wednesday.
The regionals are the second of three levels in the U.S. Youth Soccer championship structure, following state tournaments and preceding the national championships July 20-25 in Overland Park, Kan.