|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Brianna Adler (10) puts up a three-point shot in the 9th Region Quarterfinals on Monday. Adler averages 11.6 points per game for the Ladybirds.|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Newport Central Catholic sophomore Olivia Schalk makes a move in Tuesday's 9th Region quarterfinal game against Dixie Heights.|
After all, the 36th District winner Highlands Ladybirds (30-3 overall) and runner-up Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (20-12) along with the 35th champion Covington Holy Cross Lady Indians (27-3) and Covington Holmes Lady Bulldogs (29-3) own the four best records in the region. The district winners square off in the first semifinal games Saturday at 6 p.m. before the runner-ups go at 7:30 p.m. The games again take place at the Bank of Kentucky Center on the Northern Kentucky University campus.
Highlands and Holy Cross have four days to prepare for each other. Holy Cross edged Highlands, 40-39 in double overtime on Jan. 24 in Covington. But the Ladybirds hope to capitalize on the game that counts and move into their second region title game in three seasons. They lost to Notre Dame in the semifinals last year.
“It helps, especially playing on a college court. But whether it’s one day, two days or four days, we know we have to bring our A game against Holy Cross,” said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. “If we come ready to play and they come ready to play, it’ll be one heck of a game. I can’t wait.”
Highlands has had great senior leadership all season led by starters Lydia Graves and Alex Combs. The Ladybirds hope it continues in the game. The starters plus eighth grader Zoie Barth average at least six points per game. Junior Brianna Adler leads Highlands with 11.6 points per game and McKenzie Leigh averages 10 points and a team-high six rebounds per contest.
“It’s going to be very motivational to go out and prove we are the best team in this region,” Graves said. “We just have to come out, do our best and I think we’ll be alright.”
Leigh will also play a huge role in the paint defensively against Holy Cross senior 6-foot-1-inch twins Ally and Cessie Mayhaus. Ally Mayhaus aveages 13.1 points per game and 9.3 rebounds.
“I’m going to front the posts a lot,” Leigh said. “We have to make sure we talk a lot on defense and help out. Our talking is going to be the main key.”
But Holy Cross also has weapons in the backcourt. Senior Deja Turner averages 17 points per game and Dajah McClendon averages 8.1.
Both teams come into the game with double-digit winning streaks. Highlands has won 13 in a row while Holy Cross has won 16 in a row. That includes the All “A” State championship.
Both teams are seeking their first region crown in a while. Highlands last won it in 2001 while Holy Cross has not won it since 1976.
The second game pits the defending region champion against an upstart thanks to several transfers. One of the transfers is Holmes senior post Alexus Mayes. Mayes set the game-winning pick for NewCath that allowed Michaela Ware to score the game-winning lay-up in the region finals against Notre Dame last year.
The Lady Bulldogs come into the game with both losses on the season to Holy Cross. They edged NewCath, 61-59 on Jan. 26. But Holmes played without junior guard Hannah Tubbs. Tubbs averages 14.2 points per game.
“It’s going to be tough. They’re really good,” said George Stoll, NewCath Head Coach. “We’re going to have to play well. We’re going to have to shoot the ball well. We’re going to have to rebound. Everybody knows we’re little and they are big and athletic. We’re just going to have to battle.”
NewCath used its on-ball pressure defense and solid shooting to beat Dixie Heights in the region quarterfinals. That will be tougher to do against Holmes. Junior guard Jynea Harris leads Holmes averaging 14.3 points per game.
NewCath has the experience in the tournament. Ansley Davenport, Michaela Ware and Loren Zimmerman average 14, 10.2 and 9.6 points per game and may need more big games if NewCath is to advance to the title game. But the pressure is off the Thoroughbreds now.
“We just go out there and give it our all,” Davenport said. “Throughout the year, we’ve been overlooked because we’re so small. We have nothing to lose. We cheer for one another.”
Holmes last won the region in 2002. NewCath has won it four times since then.