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Friday, July 24, 2015

10-year back-to-back state championship celebration: Class of 2009 fit in well with upperclassmen

Contributed Photo. The 2006 Highlands Ladybirds pose after winning their second straight state championship.
Editor's Note: This is the last story commemorating the 2005 and 2006 Highlands Ladybirds state champion soccer teams. This class recognizes the Class of 2009 members on those teams.

Not only did the Class of 2009 make its contributions to the two state championship teams. But those players had the best run in school history going 80-11-11 in four years of high school.

During that time, Highlands appeared in three state championship games. After winning it in 2005 and 2006, the Ladybirds finished runner-up to Louisville Sacred Heart, 2-0 in the 2008 state championship game.

"We are now on top in 2006 instead of reaching our way to the top in 2005," said Nina Kearns, former Highlands Head Coach. "We now have an added target on our back as the returning state champions. You juggle the chemistry piece of who's going to fit where. That's the nervous part of it, but it's also the exciting part of trying to make it all work again."

Leslie Twehues cracked the starting line-up and made a huge mark on the program before playing collegiately at the University of Kentucky then Xavier University. Twehues became the third sister in her family to put on the Blue and White uniform. Her oldest sisters, Stacie Easter (Highlands Class of 2000) and Ashley Thomas (2004) also wore it and had great careers.

Thomas helped Highlands to region titles in 2002 and 2003. The Ladybirds lost to Notre Dame and Covington Holy Cross in the first round of the state tournament in each of those seasons.

"It was pretty bittersweet after we had lost my senior year," Thomas said. "All I wanted for her was to feel that because we thought we'd win and go to state. A couple years later, she went and it was so exciting. I was there to watch it. I couldn't have been more proud of (Twehues) to be on the team to win the state championship."

Twehues caused havoc for opponents all four years. She finished first on the team with 11 assists in 2005 and finished her career with 61 points good for 11th all-time in school history. Twehues had 20 goals and 21 assists. Twehues recalled the bus trips to Georgetown.

"The parents would make us signs," Twehues said. "You almost felt like a celebrity. It got us pumped up. We were always so excited to go out because there were so many people there."

Twehues admitted playing soccer has helped her in the real world. She's working toward her Master's Degree in School Counseling at Wright State University.

"I'm extremely competitive in anything that I do," Twehues said. "Soccer drives me to do my best. It's made me an organized person. My time management skills are a ton better than they've ever been. It shaped my life and I definitely would not be (at Wright State) if not for it."

Anna Ayers and Laurene Wiseman also saw some varsity action as freshmen. But their roles expanded as sophomores. Ayers ultimately went on to play at Georgetown College.

"It was a great experience," Ayers said. "We really came together as a team. The basis of it all is we all got along great. That's what really took us far. We had great captains those two years. We never really had internal conflicts among each other. We had tiffs here and there. If we did, I'm sure Nina would have stopped it on the spot."

McKenzie Hicks cracked the starting line-up as a defender in 2006. She was one of many who needed to step forward and fill the roles vacated by the the nine seniors from the 2005 state championship team.

"It was a lot of pressure, but in a good way," Hicks said. "I've played soccer my whole life. Of course I wanted to get back-to-back championships. I knew that the 2005 team made a big mark. That was huge."

Hicks and twin sister Molly eventually played at Morehead State for a few years. Molly Hicks specialized in corner kicks. It helped going against eventual NCAA Division I goalkeepers Hiance and Laura Bush.

"I always tried to see where the runs were going," Molly Hicks said. "Obviously, you don't want to kick it just to kick it. It was something we practiced a lot. We practiced our near post run, our far post run, our slot run and we called our garbage run in case it went too far back. My plan was to get it between the six-inch and 18-inch marker where the opposing goalkeepers felt too uncomfortable to come out. I think I scored two or three times on corner kicks by curving it in to the back post. The curve confused goalkeepers because they felt it was going to go over the crossbar."

Sam Messmer said she learned about empathy from Kearns. Messmer tried to play offense but Kearns convinced her to stick to defense. Messmer works in the medical field in Austin, Texas. She'd love to see the family atmosphere return to the Highlands program.

"In my type of work now, you work with a lot of different people and a lot of different personalities," Messmer said. "You are working with doctors, surgeons and families. (Nina) never made you feel like your problems weren't important. Looking back at being a 17-year-old girl, was that really worth my tears in practice? No. She was able to bring so many different types of girls with different personalities and backgrounds together and truly play as a team. We realized anything is possible if you come together and use your skills. Don't try to be something you're not."

Bush saw some time backing up Hiance. But her patience paid off as a junior and senior.

"It was a really big learning experience being behind her for two years because I got to see how she played and what they were expecting from me when I came in," Bush said. "Playing (junior varsity) was great. Even sitting on the bench, it was nice to see what I had to do and what was expected of me."

Carrie Knauer took an unsung hero role as a defender and midfielder. She ultimately played a few years at Hanover with Erin Haas-Eckstein.

"You have to stay as positive as possible," Knauer said. "You're going to be the one cheering them on the sideline and helping out if they come out and they're not happy about their play. We all hustled all the time in practice. I knew they were the starters. I was there to push them harder."

Highlands started the 2006 season at 10-0-2 including winning the Lexington Catholic Cup before losing 1-0 to Notre Dame for its only loss of the season. But Highlands avenged that loss with a 1-0 shoot-out win over the Pandas in the 10th Region title game after beating Newport Central Catholic in overtime in the 19th District championship game.

"That was one of the hardest games I've ever played because were neck and neck the entire game," McKenzie Hicks said. "Notre Dame had a really, really good team. It was a really big challenge. Being able to play against good athletes and win was such and accomplishing feeling."

Highlands handled Ryle and Bourbon County, 1-0 in the first two rounds of the state tournament. The Ladybirds then downed Ohio County, 3-1 in overtime before beating Louisville Sacred Heart, 1-0 in the championship game.

Where are the 2009 Highlands
Girls Soccer Seniors now?

Leslie Twehues:
- plays semi-professionally for
the Cincinnati Saints.
- working toward Master's Degree
in School Counseling at Wright State.

Laura Bush:
- resides in Virginia Beach (Virginia).
- works as accountant for KPMG.

McKenzie Hicks:
- works as nurse at Cincinnati
Children's Hospital.

Molly Hicks:
- works as nurse at Cincinnati
Children's Hospital.

Anna Ayers:
- Receptionist for the
Cincinnati Bengals.

Laurene Wiseman:
- attending nursing school at
Christ Hospital.

Carrie Knauer:
- works as Wild Encounters
Interpreter at Cincinnati Zoo.

Sam Messmer:
- resides in Austin (Texas).
- works at Cardiothoracic and
Vascular Surgeons.

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