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GIRLS SOCCER | Lady Cats' youth movement showing signs of paying off for long haul

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WALKER - For the second straight year Walker girls soccer coach Mike Lockhart will field a team with a lot of youth, which in this case may not be a bad thing.

The perception is that the inexperience is considered a disadvantage, but to Lockhart it represents an opportunity of sorts.

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Emily Hernandez (5)

Walker High's Emily Hernandez (5) is one of three juniors on this year's team.

Ideally the minutes dedicated to underclassman a year ago will now begin to the pay off down the line when those same players become three and four-year varsity team members, an investment Lockhart believes he’s already starting to see a return on.

“Time will tell,” Lockhart said. “Time is a great answer. Even though we’re young, we have eight of nine sophomores who played a lot last year and started as freshman. This year we’re going to rotate all those kids. You’re going to see 14 kids at the varsity level right now who will rotate and play multiple positions.”

The 2018-19 edition of Walker’s team features just one senior, Eryn Reed and three juniors: Emily Hernandez, Ariana David, and Nicole Walker.

What the Lady Cats (4-2-1) may lack in experience and veteran leadership is made up for in an abundance of talented youth and increased depth.

Most notable is sophomore standout Kiley Jones, who spent the summer in France training with women’s soccer dynastic powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais.

Jones scored 12 goals as a freshman, including six in her first four matches and earned second team All-District honors. She’s supported by fellow classmate Sydney Nester, an equally talented midfielder, who is just as much of a threat to defenses.

That one-two punch developed into a threat last season and now are without a doubt Walker’s greatest weapons.

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Walker's Kylie Jones

Walker High's Kylie Jones (2) delivered a penalty kick goal in a match earlier this season against Live Oak.

“I’ve told both of them how well we do depends on how well they work together,” Lockhart said.

Nester said, “Kylie is on a goal-scoring streak. I just feel like that’s going to continue…we can get a through-ball to Kylie and she’s a speed demo. She can get there before anyone and that’s a very good attacking point for us.”

Other notable underclassmen are versatile sophomore Abby Crotwell, a player who can be a central cog in the midfield, as well as a goal scoring threat, and goalkeeper Madeline Watson, who has three clean sheets in six matches this season.

More importantly, Jones and Nester along with the other underclassmen have backed up their play on the field with the right off-the-field attitude. Reed may be the team’s only senior, but she doesn’t feel a leadership burden or the need to hold her younger teammate’s hands.

“A lot of the sophomores have stepped up, too,” Reed said. “We all work together, so I’m not by myself. Sometimes I forget I’m the only senior. I have a lot of love for the girls on the team. They all help out and everyone works together to put things together and help lead.”

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Mike Lockhart

Walker coach Mike Lockhart

If Lockhart’s first year was dedicated to getting the young players minutes and experience, this season is about giving the Lady Cats opportunities to make their mark against some of the state’s more established programs.

Walker wrapped up its own tournament last week where it faced East Ascension, Mt. Carmel, and Pope John Paul.

The Lady Cats knocked off the Spartans 1-0 before a draw with the Cubs 1-1. They conceded a late goal and dropped a close match to the Jaguars.

After a 1-0 setback on Tuesday against Parkview Baptist, Walker travels to Monroe to take part in a tournament at Ouachita Parish. The Lady Cat will follow that with matches against St. Amant followed by district encounters with St. Joseph’s, Denham Springs, and Baton Rouge High.

If Walker can learn and improve from such challenges, Lockhart believes it will provide an opportunity for his team to return to the state playoffs.

“Pressure either does one of two things,” Lockhart said. “It either makes you rise up or it makes you crumble.”

Said Reed, “It’s good that we’re playing tougher teams. We can learn from out, mistakes against tougher teams and we know when we’ve improved when we can compete at the same skill level of those teams.”

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