|Contributed Photo. The 2005 Highlands girls soccer state championship team had solid leadership with nine seniors.|
Slightly before the 2005 season, veteran Highlands girls soccer Head Coach Nina Kearns sensed something special in the air, especially when the team picked its uniforms.
Highlands lost 6-2 to arch-rival Notre Dame in the region title game the previous year. In the two years prior to that, Highlands won region crowns before losing to Notre Dame and Covington Holy Cross in the first round of the state tournament led by the likes of Ashley Twehues-Thomas and Angela Healy-Jones. At that point, that was the furthest Highlands had advanced.
Highlands graduated just several players from the 2004 team and had a good senior class of nine players. They set out to lead Highlands to the first of consecutive state championships in a state that has one champion.
Highlands is one of only five teams in tournament history have two or more championship. Of the five, four have repeated with South Oldham and Louisville Sacred Heart winning it three years in a row at one point.
"You could see the whole package culminating," Kearns said. "With the leadership and the seniors we had coming back, we were in a very good spot."
The team finished 24-2 outscoring opponents, 62-7 with 20 shutouts. Kearns was big on defense because that's what the Middletown (Ohio) native played in college at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Kristen Pratt-Gerrein and Allie Nehus-Hanson played key roles in keeping the ball out of the attacking zone. Hanson made the all-tournament team in the state tournament.
"As a team, we all had one goal and from the beginning, we talked about state and I remember making a list of goals," Hanson said. "We did that every year. But that year, it felt different. Everyone was really on the same page. We went out there to accomplish our goals. We worked as a team and made that happen."
Former players say Kearns demanded respect. Those players who took that to heart did well.
"(Kearns) did it in a way that let us know she cared about us too, not just as soccer players, but as people," Gerrein said. "I believe I was successful in college in the classroom (at Georgetown College) and on the field because of the lessons she and (husband and former head and assistant coach) Tommy (Kearns) taught me in high school."
But the whole team including the midfielders and forwards also had huge roles on defense, not just the defenders and goalkeeper Sydney Hiance. Jessica Wiseman and Karly Hassman-Maines saw time as midfielders and Natalie Turner played both at midfield and forward.
"You didn't want Nina to yell at you so you did everything in your power to keep it out," Wiseman said. "All we basically did was feed the balls to Alicia (Browning-Gesenhues) and Megan (Leahy) up front. Without what I did, we would never had made it because I did the dirty work. I was more of a team leader. Karly, Kristen and I had the same mentality. We were all very positive."
Jessica Wiseman's younger sister Laurene saw some action as a freshman on that team. Jessica said the younger players learned a lot from the seniors.
"They set standards for all of us, were very good leaders and were really welcoming for us being freshmen," Laurene Wiseman said. "I just dressed my freshmen year."
Kara Dickerson-O'Hearn played a key role on the attack up front with Leahy and Gesenhues, who had a team-high 12 goals each. O'Hearn scored seven goal and had eight assists. Gerrein also had eight assists.
Stefanie Pennington-Veale and Shanna Gilbert may not have contributed as much as they'd have liked. But they still had roles on the team. Gilbert took on the role of team clown.
"I always kept everybody loose, kept everybody laughing and kept everyone having a good time," Gilbert said. "It's high school soccer. A lot of times, it was taken way more out of context than it should have been and stressed people out way too much. At the end of the day, it's still just a sport. You have to remember that."
Highlands won its first 11 games. That included a 2-0 win over Notre Dame and wins over recent state champions South Oldham and Lexington Catholic on the road. Turner and Maines scored the goals in the win over the Pandas.
But on Sept. 16 on the grass field at Tower Park, Highlands lost Maines for the season to a torn left Anterior Cruciated Ligament. But Maines still maintained a leadership role and the team rallied around here.
"One thing I did in the postseason is wrote the team a letter," Maines said. "I always gave a pre-game speech. The reason we were in the fight was the way our team worked together. It takes talent obviously. You can only have so much talent. If everyone doesn't give 100 percent, you are one player out there. I felt like I could be part of the team in some aspects. I tried to keep everyone motivated. It took both aspects to win the game."
Maines played recreational soccer in college. She tore her right ACL in college. But that's the reason she is a physical therapist in college.
The same holds true for Christin Veith. She had numerous quad muscle injuries. But she earned her Physical Therapy degree from St. Louis University and is helping athletes get back on the field at Floyd Memorial Hospital in New Albany (Indiana).
"It takes a lot of pride and determination to get back on the field," Veith said. "I had great physical therapists to guide me and help me get better. Just to help others get back to the sport they love is really neat to see."
Highlands installed artificial turf at Tower Park in 2012. But some of the players would still prefer to play on grass.
"We played at fields that had turf and I hated it," O'Hearn said. "I just felt like you had more control and it was more natural. The game is so much quicker when it's on turf. But I have not played on Highlands' new field so I have no idea what it would be like. When I was growing up, everything was pretty much grass."
The first loss of the season cane 2-0 to Sacred Heart in the first game of the Lexington Catholic Cup. But Highlands bounced back with shutout wins over Louisville DuPont Manual and Notre Dame,
The Ladybirds won their final six regular season games before dipatching Campbell County, 4-0 in the first round of the 19th District Tournament. Highlands then met Newport Central Catholic for the second time after beating the Lady Breds, 1-0 in August. But NewCath won the district championship 1-0.
That meant Highlands had to beat Notre Dame a third time in the 10th Region semifinals. Highlands did that before beating NewCath, 1-0 in a shootout in the region title game. Those were often hard games because the players were teammates on club teams in the offseason.
"I had a better connection with the girls on Highlands because I saw them at school and sometimes we hung out outside of school," Turner said. "It means more to win with girls I had a better relationship with compared with the girls on the club teams. We had different affiliations. I had to put aside the fact I know (the NC and Notre Dame) girls. It was more important for me to win the game."
The Ladybirds shut out Ryle, 1-0 in the Sub-Section 5 Tournament game before beating host Bourbon County, 3-0 in the Section 3 title game. Highlands then beat Greenwood, 3-0 in the state semifinals before beating Lexington Catholic, 1-0 in a shootout in the championship game.
The players still use a lot of lessons in their roles as wives, co-workers and mothers these days. O'Hearn work at 5/3 Bank and is raising her son with her husband Tim.
"You're always part of a team environment," O'Hearn said. "That's what they instill in the work place too. You work hard for each other to accomplish goals. That's exactly what you do when you play for a team. It's essentially the same thing. It prepares your for life outside high school."
Jessica Wiseman works with many different people as a floating pharmacist with Kroger. She may be at the store in Alexandria one week and at one in Covington the next week. Jessica's youngest sister Courtney also played soccer at Highlands before graduating in 2013.
"You learned a lot about respect from Highlands soccer," Jessica Wiseman said. "You don't realize it while you are playing, but there are so many people fascinated by us. We were an inspiration for younger girls. Even though they may have not made it as far, everyone wanted to be our team. To be honest, we weren't the best team. But we were like a family. It showed you how much hard work and the girls liked getting along with each other. That's why we won. There was not a selfish player on our team."
Gerrein teaches Freshmen English and serves as head coach of the Walton-Verona girls soccer program. She's trying to teach similar lessons there.
"I really do run my program like they taught me to run a program," Gerrein said. "I make it my number one goal to build team chemistry. That was such a big part of the teams I've been a part of. We worked really hard, but had so much fun. Bringing a group of girls together is a lot more than just winning and losing games. That's teaching the girls to be classy young ladies. That's something Nina did for sure."
Aside from Gerrein, O'Hearn also played sports in college. She played softball for four years at nearby Thomas More College.
Where are the 2005 Highlands
Girls Soccer Seniors now?
- teaches Freshman English at Walton-Verona High School.
- head coach of Walton-Verona girls soccer team.
- married to 2002 Newport Central Catholic graduate and
former football player Chris Gerrein.
- first child Cecily was born on June 8.
- works at 5/3 Bank.
- married to 2003 Highlands alum and
former football player Tim O'Hearn.
- The couple lives in Alexandria
with son Nolan.
- works as Physical Therapist in Lexington.
- recently married 2006 Highlands alum
Justin Maines. As senior superlatives, the couple
was voted, "Best Couple that Never was."
- works as nurse at the Cincinnati VA Hospital.
- recently got engaged to former Highlands
football player Brandon Fugate.
- lives in Louisville with husband Michael Hanson.
Michael Hanson is from Shelbyville.
- works at the Parkinson's Support Center.
- resides in Denver working in the Geology field.
- works as floating pharmacist for Kroger
in Northern Kentucky.
- engaged to 2008 Cincinnati St. Xavier
graduate John Hemmer.
- works as physical therapist at Floyd Memorial
Hospital in New Albany, Indiana.
- married and lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky
- works as Speech-Language Pathologist at
skilled nursing facility.