The Lady Longhorns, who have hovered near the .500 mark the last three seasons, have five freshmen starters who have already been playing the game for four years.
That’s a huge explanation why Kell has a 10-2 record going into the stretch run of the 2012 season, and those freshmen could put the team in position to win its first playoff game in four tries.
“The thing that makes our team so special is that they are all so young,” Kell community coach Aubree Mancuso said. “They don’t realize how big a deal it really is that we’re winning all these games.”
Midfielder Haley Swift leads the freshman class with 30 goals, 14 assists and 62 groundballs, with fellow freshman midfielder Leslie Ferguson also up there with 28 goals and 18 groundballs. Defender Hannah Nemeck has 58 groundballs.
Freshman midfielder Sarah Bilecki and defender Juliana Santrock don’t quite have the numbers of the other three, but they too start on a regular basis.
Along with the five freshmen starting full-time, there are a couple more who are spot starters.
Kell has benefited from having speed at all positions, plus two experienced junior scorers in midfielders Emily Swift and Katie Kunberger.
Emily Swift, Haley’s older sister, has emerged as a scoring machine this season with 64 goals, and she also leads the team with 23 assists and 99 groundballs. Kunberger has 34 goals and 58 groundballs.
“Emily and Katie work really hard,” first-year Kell coach Todd Utt said. “They play year-round, and they play on different select teams through Hotlanta (club lacrosse) and play on tournament teams all throughout the summer. They constantly work on their games and constantly have their hands on their stick passing and catching, and it really pays off for them. Offensively, they are our leading scorers.”
Sophomore Jessica Armstrong is another impact player for the Lady Longhorns with 26 goals and 13 assists.
Kell opened the season with nine straight wins and is undefeated in Area 2A-AAAA with a 2-0 mark. Two of its biggest wins came against Holy Innocents’ in its Feb. 22 season opener, and then a week later against Lovett.
The two perennial private-school contenders field senior-laden rosters.
Kell’s success this season stems from having natural talent on the offensive side, behind Emily Swift, Kunberger and Armstrong, but the Lady Longhorns’ ability to pass and move the ball down field is another strength. They don’t often score on unassisted breakaways, and many goals are a result of multiple players touching the ball.
“Everybody on our team has strong stick skills, and they know they can depend on passing to everybody on the team, from defense to midfield to attack,” Mancuso said. “It definitely shows in our game and in transition. In the plays we have and when somebody goes to goal, they know they can always look to pass before they shoot.”
After suffering two straight one-goal losses to Harrison and Baylor (Tenn.), Kell bounced back Tuesday to beat Woodstock 19-4 in a non-area match.
In moving forward, one of Kell’s priorities has been tightening up its man-to-man defense.
The remainder of the Lady Longhorns’ area schedule isn’t easy. They still have to face Westminster at home next Tuesday, and they will have to play at a Pope team that’s just as successful April 26. They will also play a non-area game against east Cobb rival and Class AAAAA power Lassiter on April 27.
“After last season, there was no way we could have expected any wins whatsoever,” Kunberger said. “We definitely stepped it up, and all these freshman are making a difference. That’s where everything has changed.”