• By Thomas Mims, Sport Writer

New district, no problem: Woodford County boys’ soccer wins district, first region tournament game

The Woodford County High School boys’ soccer team has adapted well to being a member of the 30th District. The Yellow Jackets won the district championship with a 5-0 victory over Collins Thursday, Oct. 10. Four days later, the Jackets drubbed Carroll County 10-0 in 41 minutes to win their first ever 8th Region Tournament game. Woodford Coach Fonyam Atanga said, “It feels great. We left the previous district as champions and to start off as champions in the new district feels absolutely amazing.” The victory over Collins was an offensive assault by the Jackets. Woodford County tallied 12 shots on goal. Nine of those came in the first half as the Jackets built a 4-0 lead in the game’s first 40 minutes. Cai Coburn opened the scoring in the game’s seventh minute, taking a through-ball from Owen Damm to set up a one-on-one matchup with the Collins goalkeeper. Coburn beat the keeper in simple fashion to put the Jackets ahead. Woodford County set up several chances on through-balls through the air and on the ground. Sophomore Gael Gonzalez scored in the 32nd minute in a 1 v. 1 situation with the keeper and senior Juan Velasco’s second goal of the game came in the 39th minute in similar fashion. Velasco’s first goal, in the 27th minute, was the only goal in the first half that wasn’t directly set up with a through-ball. “We expected some of that to be available because we played them earlier in the season and those opportunities were there,” Atanga said. “But I’ll be completely honest with you, I was sort of surprised because I thought we might get a few of those chances, but not as many. I figured they would adjust, but even in the second half they didn’t adjust.” Damm scored the final goal for the Yellow Jackets in the 60th minute on a penalty kick after his fancy footwork drew a trip in the penalty box. The Yellow Jacket playmaker buried the shot in the bottom left corner to extend the Jacket lead. He wasn’t called on often, but Woodford County senior goalkeeper Connor Walsh rose to the occasion when he had to, making a great save in the 44th minute on what was Collins’ only shot on goal. Walsh was named to the All-Tournament team for his efforts along with Damm, Braden Reister and Velasco. Velasco was also awarded the MVP honors on the strength of his two-goal performance in the final. “His play has gotten better and better all season as he has gotten more comfortable. At the beginning of the season, he wasn’t even a starter,” Atanga said of the MVP. As effective as the offense was, particularly in district play, the defense has been the driving force for Woodford County this season. The team has scored 87 goals and allowed eleven. The only other team in the 8th Region to allow fewer than 30 is Oldham County, who has surrendered 29 goals. “The defense was absolutely brilliant!” Atanga raved after the district final. “I’m especially proud of them because one of our starting center backs, Mason Coburn, didn’t even play. Knowing that we were going to advance to regions regardless of whether we won tonight, I decided to give him a few extra days so he could he heal properly. I’m glad I did.” Atanga opted to keep Coburn out of the line-up again Monday against Carroll County as the Yellow Jackets hosted the opening round game of the 8th Region tournament. Had Coburn played, he likely wouldn’t have had much to do. The Yellow Jackets completely controlled the game, scoring nine times in the first half. Damm scored first on an early penalty kick and Henry Albor added two goals in six minutes to give Woodford a 3-0 lead in the game’s opening 10 minutes. Damm scored his second of the night in the 15th minute off an assist from Velasco. Moments later, Damm recorded an assist by placing a corner kick at the back-post for Jake Stewart, Coburn’s replacement, who made a simple tap-in for the fifth Woodford score. Woodford scored more times in the final 11 minutes of the half. Damm reached a hat trick by scoring his third goal after a cross by Gael Gonzalez. Gonzalez got a goal of his own a few minutes later when Damm’s shot was blocked, but not controlled by the keeper. Gonzalez reached the loose ball first and finished easily to extend the Yellow Jacket lead to 7-0. Ryan Alvey scored the eighth goal with a perfectly placed free kick from 23 yards out that tucked neatly inside the bottom left corner of the goal. Albor almost had the second Yellow Jacket hat trick, but instead his shot caromed off the post to a waiting Chad Jones. Jones finished with a simple shot to bring the Yellow Jackets one goal away from the mercy rule. It looked as if the Jackets wouldn’t even have to come out for the second half as a last second shot from Reister hit the crossbar, but the ball didn’t cross the goal line and the half ended 9-0. Woodford County didn’t go to the locker room during half time, despite the chilly temperature, opting instead to stay on the field through the break. Just 63 seconds after resuming play, Cai Coburn would end the game in walk-off fashion with a lobbed shot gracefully landing in the top left corner. It was a comical end to the game for the Yellow Jackets, with several players laughing at the somewhat anti-climactic finish. “Wait, that’s it?” one player said, laughing. Not needing to play most of the second half could be an advantage for the Yellow Jackets as they head into the semifinals of the 8th Region tournament more rested than the other three teams still in contention. According to the KHSAA ratings percentage index (RPI), the 13-3-2 Jackets are now favored to win the 8th Region. Their .617 rating edges out North Oldham’s .615. The teams faced off Wednesday night in the region semifinals at Walton-Verona, but that game was not completed in time for this issue. Coverage can be found on the Sun’s social media accounts. If the Jackets won Wednesday evening, they will face the winner of Oldham County and Henry County at 7 p.m. Thursday at Walton-Verona for the region championship.

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