Defense has been a way of life for Kyle Lehnert on the soccer pitch for more than a decade.
The Charlottesville High School senior proved this spring that he’s just as adept at putting the ball in the back of the net too.
Lehnert recently led the Black Knights to a Region 4D championship and a berth in this week’s state quarterfinals. Lehnert scored a pair of goals in Charlottesville’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Blacksburg in the regional championship game to earn Schewels Athlete of the Week honors.
“We dominated the entire game against Blacksburg,” Lehnert said. “We went down early to a goal against the run of play, but kept pushing and fighting for an equalizing goal. Fortunately, Benhui [Ryang] was able to cross a perfect ball to my chest and I was able to put it away.”
It has been an eventful senior season for Lehnert, who signed to play at West Virginia University in November and was prepared to anchor the Black Knights’ defense for his final high school season.
Those plans changed early in the season after Charlottesville split a nonconference series with Spotswood. Coach Martin Braun approached Lehnert about moving to the midfield to add another quality player in the mix and help generate offense.
“Kyle’s preferred position is in defense, but a few weeks into the season, we plugged him in the midfield alongside Benhui and Adam [Moreland] and we haven’t looked back,” Braun said.
Since Lehnert’s position change, the Black Knights are 16-0-1 heading into Tuesday’s Class 4 state quarterfinal game with Loudoun Valley.
“He is always up for a challenge and he took on this new role/position this season and has had tremendous success,” Braun said. “He is extremely competitive. You always know you are going to get hard work and quality play from him on the field, but this season, he has truly stepped up as a leader of this team off the field.”
Lehnert leads the team with 19 goals and 13 assists and Monday was named Region 4D Player of the Year.
“This season, I have been trying to improve my creativity in the attack,” Lehnert said. “As a natural defender, my first instinct isn’t always pushing forward in the attack. Playing center-midfield helps me have a different mindset when I have the ball.”
That defensive mindset was instilled in him at an early age.
“I started playing soccer when I was about seven and loved it the instant I started,” Lehnert said. “My dad was a soccer player in college and got me involved in it at an early age. I played other sports, but nothing compared to soccer in my mind.”
That technical skill and ability is evident on the pitch. Lehnert is a four-year starter for the Black Knights. The senior said Braun’s offensive scheme suits him well.
“The key to the system Coach Martin has created is speed of play in the midfield,” Lehnert said. “This is where our strength lies and if we are all on the same page and working together, the game becomes much easier to manage and win. I fit this system well because I am able to contribute to the attack and defense. Much like other midfielders, we each play a part in creating chances for our team and defending when we are not in possession.”
Individually, Lehnert has embraced the challenge of his new role as an offensive threat. This postseason, he’s scored four goals and added two assists in three games for Charlottesville.
“When I get the ball, my first instinct is can I contribute positively to the attack,” Lehnert said. “This involves me looking for my strikers, [Joe Von Storch and Ayat Mohamed] and also the attacking midfielder Malcolm [Brickhouse]. I am trying to create chances and be involved in the offense to score goals.”
Charlottesville posted a perfect 14-0 record in Jefferson District play, including a sweep of reigning Class 5 state champions Albemarle. Lehnert said the victories over the Patriots, particularly a 2-1 win on May 6, was an eye-opener for the team.
“The moment I knew we were having a special season was when we beat Albemarle at home,” Lehnert said. “Winning against AHS was a great boost for the rest of the season and gave us a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.”
Defensively, the Black Knights continue to be sound. They have posted 10 clean sheets in 19 games, a figure that Lehnert takes a lot of pride in.
“I enjoy defending the most,” Lehnert said. “As a natural defender, I have always been told that my first job is to deny the other team from scoring and that has become my favorite part in the sport. Fighting for a shutout in a game is my favorite moment.”
The West Virginia signee said the Black Knights’ possession-oriented scheme can be tough to defend.
“A key to our success has been our chemistry on the field,” Lehnert said. “We wear teams down by keeping possession and passing the ball for the majority of the game.”
The unselfishness of the team also is an added bonus. Four players have scored 10 or more goals this season, a stat that Lehnert and his teammates relish.
“It’s great to be a key player on the team, but I believe the reason we are doing so well is that every person on the team is feared by the opposition,” Lehnert said. “No player is more important than another and every one contributes. It shows in the stats as well. The majority of players on the team have multiple goals, including the center backs Oliver [Barcia] and Ethan [Hatcher].”
That scoring depth and possession-oriented game was evident last week against Blacksburg. Despite conceding the first goal, Charlottesville didn’t panic and stayed true to its system and it worked.
“I believe we rallied together as a team and the captains, [Adam Moreland], Ayat and me led by example on the field to invigorate the rest of the players. This is No. 1 on my list of games for high school,” Lehnert said. “Winning a regional championship was a great feeling.”
Off the pitch, Lehnert enjoys time to himself. He likes fishing and being on the water. Lehnert also is a big movie buff, especially sports movies such as “Miracle”, “Rudy”, and the “Rocky” series. In addition, he also enjoys war movies, including “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Saving Private Ryan.”
With a week left in his high school career, Lehnert is excited to have an opportunity to be one of eight teams left in the race for the Class 4 state championship. The senior believes his team has what it takes to make it to Roanoke College and play for VHSL’s highest team honor.
“This team has been on an amazing run, but it’s nothing we didn’t expect out of each other,” Lehnert said. “We knew coming into the season that we had a very strong and deep team that could compete all the way to states. It’s not a surprise to us. Our goal from the beginning of the season was to get to the state final. Winning it would capsulate a perfect season for me.”