By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
They’ve made the most of their opportunities this year.
That has led to an even greater one Friday to conclude the regular season. The Highlands Ladybirds enter the game with a stellar 26-3 record and a win would mark the most wins in a season since Jaime Walz-Richey became the head coach in 2002.
Junior Brianna Adler and Haley Coffey started on the team that set the mark two years ago of 26-8. Those two combined with seniors like Leah Schaefer, Jesse “Dirt” Daley, Emilie Parton, Ava Abner among others to finish 9th Region runner-up to eventual state runner-up Notre Dame marking the program’s deepest postseason run since finishing region runner-up in 2002. Highlands also won the 36th District Tournament that year for the first time since 2008.
Highlands has won at least 23 games every season since Adler and Coffey’s class entered high school. The Ladybirds finished 23-8 last year losing to Notre Dame in the 9th Region quarterfinals.
Highlands returned all but one senior from that squad this year and has made the most of the experience. Adler and Coffey have played with the likes of seniors Alex Combs, Lydia Graves, junior McKenzie Leigh, sophomore Kirsten Clukey and eighth grader Zoie Barth for at least a year.
“We know who to get the ball to and when,” Adler said. “We know we have shooters and we try to get them open as much as possible. We know where people are going to be. It just helps a lot.”
The Ladybirds will have to beat the Simon Kenton Lady Pioneers (22-3) to earn the huge win. They again close the season against the 8th Region contenders from Independence led by veteran Head Coach Jeffrey Stowers. Game time is 5:30 p.m. Friday. It was rescheduled from Thursday because of inclement weather. Senior activities begin at 5 p.m. and the Buckets for Brady (Walz) festivities will take place at halftime.
“At the end of the year, I try to get out-of-region teams just to get us ready,” Walz-Richey said. “We had Walton-Verona on Saturday. That’s a good, physical team. We were able to play well. Coach Stowers is a great coach. They’re a great defensive team. I think that will help us get ready for the district and postseason tournaments.”
Simon Kenton generally plays solid man-to-man defense. The Lady Pioneers have three players averaging in double figures. They are freshman guard Allison Niece, senior forward Maggi Bosse and sophomore center Madi Meier at 16.1, 15.3 and 11.9 points per game respectively.
Highlands has won with balance all season. Adler leads the Ladybirds averaging 11.7 points per game and Graves averages 10.2.
“They do a great job helping in a lot so we’re going to have to be able to execute on offense and take what they give us,” Walz-Richey said. “We feel like we have one of the deepest teams. If we have a mismatch, we have to make sure our girls see that, get them the ball and score.”
Highlands saw Leigh return to the lineup recently after she missed five games. Coffey also expects to play Friday after missing the last two games. Leigh averages a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game.
“We move the ball so well and we always take the best open shot we can,” Leigh said. “It’s pretty hard to defend. My return gives us a presence in the post. I can make a move or kick it back out for the open shots. All my teammates are great shooters so that helps out a lot.”
Highlands is a few plays away from being undefeated. The three losses to Owensboro Catholic, Covington Holy Cross and Covington Holmes came by a combined six points.
“We know these games are going to be close,” Adler said. “It’s a matter of who comes to play and who doesn’t. Any three of the teams have a chance. Whoever plays their hardest is going to win. We know we have to come and play no matter which game it is.”
Highlands last won the region in 2001. The Ladybirds won it three straight years when Walz-Richey played including a state runner-up finish in 1994.