Battling Adversity / Bull Dogs overcome injuries to star players to advance to regional

Columbus North's Nitya Chenanda, right, kicks the ball during the sectional final against Columbus East Saturday at Center Grove.

Columbus North’s girls soccer season could have taken a turn for the worse after All-State attacking midfielder Jenna Lang, the school’s all-time leading scorer was lost to a sprained MCL and PCL on Sept. 20.

Then, the Bull Dogs could have wilted when All-State senior center back Nitya Chenanda sustained a head injury in last week’s sectional opener and couldn’t play against Class 3A No. 8 Center Grove in the semifinals.

But after each of those setbacks, North stayed the course. The 3A No. 7 Bull Dogs have won five consecutive games since Lang’s injury, fighting back from halftime deficits to beat Center Grove and Columbus East on penalty kicks in the sectional to advance to Wednesday’s regional semifinals against 3A No. 5 Bloomington South.

“A big portion of it is what we’ve done the last couple years and how we’ve won games,” North coach David Young said.

“A lot of people have made comments that we win because we have Jenna. We have 15 or 16 girls that have contributed and played well for us. There are girls that have taken more of a leadership role.”

Lang, a senior who has committed to Michigan, leads the Bull Dogs (15-1-2) with 21 goals. Junior Lauren Barker, who moved from forward to fill Lang’s attacking midfield spot, has 13 goals.

Senior center midfielder Emily Ellis has 12 goals. Senior forward K.J. Ely has six goals and a team-high 14 assists.

“We’ve had a couple games without (Lang), and our mentality is starting to get used to not having her,” Ely said. “I think a lot of players have stepped up to adapt to not having her. It’s been difficult, but I think we’re starting to accept it.”

Senior Claire Lyvers has stepped into Barker’s old spot at forward.

“Claire has been dinged up all year, but she has taken more minutes the last few games,” Young said. “She understands that she needs to increase her minutes if we’re going to be successful in the postseason, and she’s done a good job of it.”

Chenanda also played the first half at forward when she returned for Saturday’s sectional final win against Columbus East before moving back to her normal center back spot in the second half.

“There was a doubt whether she was going to play,” Young said. “Nitya felt great before the game and decided she could go, and we decided it wouldn’t surprise anybody if we had her at center back. Rion Stevens played a great against Center Grove, so we decided to put her at center back and put Nitya up top and see what would happen.”

Chenanda was injured in the sectional opener when Greenwood played a through ball, and she was running back to shield the offensive player, and got hit in the side of the head with a kick from North keeper Mallory Gilley.

“Everything was splotchy black,” Chenanda said. “I was trying to get up, and I was super disoriented from the hit. I had a really bad sensitivity in my eyes, and my eyes had trouble focusing.”

The next day, Chenanda went to the doctor and found out she did not have a concussion. She felt fine that day, but then started feeling nauseous and dizzy at school on Thursday and figured it was best not to play and risk further injury that night against Center Grove.

The Bull Dogs rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit to beat the Trojans on penalty kicks, then did the same against East on Saturday night with Chenanda back in the lineup.

Now, North will face the same Bloomington South team that it was leading 1-0 when Lang was injured. That game ended in a 1-1 tie, and the Bull Dogs and Panthers shared the Conference Indiana title.

“I think with all the adversity we’ve faced, we’ve shown we’re a pretty resilient team,” Chenanda said. “We’ve been able to do this with a lot of communication with our team. We all know that any game could be our last game, and that’s kind of sad to think about. This senior class is pretty special, and everyone on the field knows it, too, and no one wants it to end.”