AURORA | One of the key cogs in the Grandview girls soccer team’s current dynasty is departing ahead of her senior season.
Senior midfielder Nicole Lyubenko, who has helped the Wolves win the past two Class 5A state championships and go unbeaten in their last 36 games, has graduated early and is moving on to the University of Alabama in the new year.
Lyubenko departs for Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Jan. 7 to get an early start on classes and work her way into the team to begin play in the 2017 season. The Crimson Tide finished 9-8-2 in the 2016 season, which ended with a double overtime loss to Texas A&M in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
“I feel so honored to have this opportunity to join Roll Tide Nation early,” Lyubenko told the Sentinel. “I’m excited to jump into the competitive college atmosphere and start practicing under Wes Hart (head coach), Mike Piserchio and Jerrod Roh (assistants). I am going to miss Grandview soccer very much.”
Lyubenko is the second talented Grandview player to depart school early to start her collegiate career, following Bailey Cook, who missed last season’s title run for the Wolves while getting an early start at San Diego State. Cook played in 17 of the 21 games for the Aztecs during their 10-7-4 2016 season.
This past spring, Lyubenko scored a team-high 12 goals and tied for second on the team with seven assists in the spring as Grandview finished an 18-0-1 season with a 2-1 victory over Mountain Vista in the 5A final at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. She also paced the Wolves in goals in the 2015 season when they downed Broomfield for the program’s second all-time state title.
Grandview coach Tari Wood — who Lyubenko said instilled her with a confidence that she hopes to take to the next level — will be without one of the most instrumental players in a run that has seen the Wolves go 46-5-3 in the past three seasons. Grandview will enter the 2017 season on a 36-game unbeaten streak (35-0-1) stretching back to a 1-0 loss to Columbine on March 15, 2015.
As a freshman, Lyubenko played primarily a defensive role with the Wolves, but beefed up her career numbers with back-to-back 12-goal seasons that led the team in each of the past two seasons. With a deadly shot from just about anywhere inside midfield and the innate ability to find teammates in front of the goal on set pieces, Lyubenko finished her prep career with 27 goals and 13 assists.
Lyubenko also credits the Real Colorado Club team — where Lorne Donaldson and Danny Bills helped her develop her skills — for helping her reach the Division I level.
Barring any other early departures, Grandview expects to have back a lineup with several players who have Division I careers ahead of them, including Jessica Hixson (Utah), Taylor Parker (Denver), Natalie Beckman (Denver) and goalkeeper Reagan McCombs, a recent commitment to Central Arkansas.
“My teammates are definitely my closest friends and I will never forget any of them,” Lyubenko said. “They are an extremely talented group of girls and in my opinion have an awesome chance at a 3-peat. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish this year.
“We got a star and defended our title, so I couldn’t ask for a better fairytale ending to my high school career,” she added, referring to the team’s mottos of G.A.S. (Get A Star) and D.O.T. (Defend Our Title).
Lyubenko’s sister Caylin is a freshman this year and will take aim at a varsity spot in the spring.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel