Tierney Lanter and Gabby Smith are easy to find on a soccer field.
The Nerinx Hall juniors stand out for their scrappy, never-give-up approaches. Each scored a goal in Nerinx Hall's hard-fought 3-1 win over Cor Jesu Academy in the rain April 3. The next day, Kassidy Grant scored three goals in a 7-0 win over Parkway Central as Nerinx improved to 5-1.
Lanter and Smith cited camaraderie as a key to the season thus far. "I was missing a few tackles today, and my team really picked me up, and our coaches really brought me up," said Lanter, who believes that sense of teamwork will enable Nerinx to excel this year.
According to Smith, team effort means "connect, connect, connect 'til we make it all the way up the field. It's good that we don't force the ball. We just work it back and forth."
Nerinx has a lot of skilled players who "know what they're doing," Smith said. "Since the beginning of the season we just felt this connection that just pulls us all together."
Smith credited senior captains Gracie Mannion, Abby Host and Maggie Winter, who scored the team's third goal vs. Cor Jesu. Katie Knott scored for Cor Jesu.
The efforts of her teammates, regardless of whether they start or come off the bench, "make you want to play harder," Smith said.
Nerinx coach Brian Haddock praised Cor Jesu as "an outstanding team" and a rival during his 10 years of coaching at Nerinx. "It's always close no matter if it's here or at Cor Jesu," he said, adding that the win "against a quality local opponent" helps the team's confidence.
He asks players to move the ball quick with a purpose toward a teammate's feet. "As this game evolved, you started to see both," he said. "You gotta do both against a fast team like Cor Jesu."
Injuries, scheduling and other factors may bring "bumps in the road," and contributions from players on the bench are essential, Haddock added.
"We've got some talent — no heroes or superstars — but they really buy into the team concept, all 22 of them," the coach said.
Playing for Nerinx is a blessing for Lanter. "I can only thank my parents and my coaches for that," she said.
Smith has many connections to Nerinx and attended soccer camps there starting in the third grade. "I love wearing the Nerinx logo everywhere I go," she said.
Before every game, the players say a prayer, which focuses them on God and helps in seeing God in each other. "We all care for each other so much," Smith said.
Cor Jesu Coach Dave Gauvain said the team is taking things in stride early in the season, with a few injuries in the early going holding the team back. Nerinx set the tone in the game.
"We didn't step up and play the game we wanted to play," Gauvain said. "By the middle of the second half we were playing stronger, but we still got pushed around."
In high school sports, "you see huge growth during the season," he said. "The big thing is improving each game."
Like players at Nerinx Hall and other Catholic high schools, Cor Jesu players pray before and after games and after practice. They also talk about special intentions, which gives them insight to each other they wouldn't have otherwise.
Each year the team does a couple extra off-field activities. This year, Cor Jesu is supporting a child with cancer, the daughter of a former player. "They do a fundraiser ... we bring the whole team there," the coach said. "It's important to see that side of our players. I know how special they are, but it's neat to see them in action." RELATED ARTICLE(S):All-Americans: DeSmet, Ursuline soccer stars stand out on and off the field