Story Matters

Story Matters

THE Official HHS Football Site

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What will it take for the Highlands basketball team to succeed this year?

Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands junior McKenzie Leight (31) sets up for a free-throw attempt in the 9th Region semifinals against Notre Dame last year. Leigh averaged 8.7 points and 6.6 rebounds for Highlands last year. Leigh is one of all five starters and 12-of-13 players returning from last year's 23-8 team.
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

The prospects for a big season exist.

Like veteran Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey would say, it’s a matter of daily improvement and understanding certain qualities that make teams successful.

Richey became the Head Coach in 2002. The Ladybirds have gone 225-133 since then including three district championships and a 9th Region runner-up finish two years ago.

The Highlands Ladybirds return 12-of-13 players from last year’s 23-8 squad that lost to eventual 9th Region champion Newport Central Catholic in the 36th District championship game and Notre Dame in the 9th Region semifinals. That team also made it past the region quarterfinals in consecutive years for the first time since the 2001 and 2002 teams led by current Dixie Heights Head Coach Tara Boothe-Smith.

That includes all five starters. The only player not returning is graduated senior Tomi Blanton.

The Ladybirds achieved a second straight 20-plus win season despite some inexperience. They had some big wins such as its first win at NewCath since 1999.

“We (recently) had a heart-to-heart,” Richey said. “We had a terrible practice. They realize it’s going to be a team that wins it. It can’t be an individual that wants to go out and score 30 points per game because that’s not going to happen.”

Depth might be a big asset for Highlands this year. The Ladybirds have 19 players pushing to make an impact on the hardwood. Teams can dress 15 players pushing for varsity games. Highlands saw 22 players try out so the coaching staff had to make cuts this year.

“We’ve had everyone back for about a week now so it’s a work in progress just getting everyone back into basketball shape and into a basketball mind,” Richey said. “Our practices are much more competitive now. We’re pushing each other, which is great to see.”

Richey said rebounding will be a key to this season. The Ladybirds will face some height down low such as twins Ally and Cessie Mayhaus. Highlands nabbed 838 rebounds last year.

That’s where senior returning starters Alex Combs, Lydia Graves and junior returning 6-foot-1-inch center/forward starter McKenzie Leigh will have a huge responsibility. Combs, Leigh and Graves averaged 9.2, 8.7 and 7.9 points per game respectively last year. Leigh averaged 6.6 rebounds and Combs had 5.1.

“We’ll probably have to pack it in and use what little height we have,” Combs said. “We’ll also use our aggressiveness and put a lot of ball pressure (on the guards) so they can’t get it in to the tall people.”

Those three also can shoot from outside giving the Ladybirds versatility. Graves finished second on the team making 23-of-65 three-point tries for 35.4 percent and Leigh hit 18-of-53 for 34 percent.

The overall shooting was also good for Highlands. The Ladybirds made 534-of-1,373 shots for 39 percent including 132-of-446 from three-point range for 29.6 percent. Highlands outscored the opposition, 1,671- 1,365 last year.

Juniors Haley Coffey and Brianna Adler return for their third seasons as full-time starters. They also started some as eighth graders filling in for injured Ava Abner. Adler led Highlands averaging 10.4 points per game last year and Coffey averaged 8.6.

Coffey has done a great job setting up the Highlands offense for years and Adler gives the Ladybirds a solid three-point threat. Adler led Highlands in three-point shooting last year making 101-of-127 attempts for 79.5 percent.

“As a point guard, I’m looking to set up plays, get assists and if the points happen, they happen,” Coffey said. “I’m looking to score every time. But I’m also looking to get my teammates open and make us look better and get better. We have to make sure everyone is in the right spots making the plays among other things.”

The Ladybirds mostly went eight deep last year. Sophomore forward Kiersten Clukey and eighth-grader Zoie Barth return after giving Highlands solid minutes last year.

Five other players return to help give Highlands that needed depth. Two are seniors Kristyn Lukjan at center and guard Whitney Quillen. Quillen and Coffey helped the Highlands softball team to its first 9th Region crown last spring. The other three are juniors Mikayla Reichert at center and Isabella Schultz at forward along with sophomore guard Macy Gabbard.

Highlands opens the season on Dec. 2. The Ladybirds hit the road for a tough contest at Louisville Sacred Heart at 7:30 p.m.

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