|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands freshman midfielder Lauren Deckert (7) fires off a shot in the game against Simon Kenton on Saturday.|
But that changed here Saturday. The Highlands Ladybirds continued to boot the ball up-field in the championship game of the Lexington Catholic Cup against the Simon Kenton Lady Pioneers instead of playing a disciplined, ball-possession style game that often leads to state championships. Simon Kenton played several defenders back the entire game and limited the Highlands chances on its way to a 2-0 win.
"It comes down to a lot of things," said Brian Wiefering, Highlands Head Coach. "When we win the ball, the girls were getting in the bad habit of running forward. I'm not seeing the girls check into space the second we win the ball. I'm not seeing my defense drop off and be options. They're defending well, but they're holding flat. I'm not seeing my outside (midfielders) getting wide quick enough to be options. As much as I hate losing, I think it was the best thing for this team to lose because they are getting into bad habits."
Highlands (10-1-1 overall) has played in the prestigious tournament every year since 2002 and hoped to win its first crown since the 2006 state championship team accomplished the feat 10 years ago. Instead, the Ladybirds finished tournament runner-up for the second time since that crown. The 2013 Highlands squad beat Woodford County and Notre Dame in the LexCath Cup before losing to Louisville Sacred Heart in the championship game, also by a 2-0 count.
Defensively, Highlands knew it had to contain senior Xavier University commit Abigail Zoeller. Simon Kenton (10-2-1) places Zoeller all over the field taking advantage of her ability. The tournament's most valuable player stood in the box facing throw-ins and tried to make quick moves to free herself for hard shots.
Highlands constantly had a few defenders near her trying to cut her off at various angles to prevent those shots. Zoeller didn't score off any hard shots.
But Zoeller did receive a free kick just outside the 18-foot box with 6:02 left in the first half dribbling right. Zoeller hit it past the Highlands wall to her left to give Simon Kenton a 2-0 lead for her team-high 15th goal of the season. That marked just the third goal the Ladybirds had allowed all season. Zoeller also had nine assists on the year for a total of 39 points.
"For as great as our defenders have been and they are great, we weren't disciplined," Wiefering said. "We were diving in on (Zoeller). We were either diving in on her and letting her go around or giving her too much respect and staying too distanced from her and letting her get that shot off."
Simon Kenton scored the only goal it needed just 11 minutes, 57 seconds into the game. Sophomore Hannah Allen beat Highlands to a loose ball down the right side. She slid the ball into the goal for her second score of the season.
"The first goal was the most surprising for me because we have a very specific rotation that needs to take place," Wiefering said. "It might have looked like one girl. There was no cover. Our defensive mids were standing and watching. It was absolutely the furthest thing we've taught those girls to do."
An unusual thing happened after Allen's goal. A referee went down with a cramps and the game did not resume for a while until another ref showed up.
The Ladybirds did receive several corner kicks down the stretch. But they were unable to finish any chances.
Simon Kenton outshot Highlands, 19-13 including 15-9 on goal. Ladybird goalkeeper Olivia McQueary made 13 saves and Lady Pioneer goalkeeper Skylin Yates recorded six.
Highlands did receive some good news depth-wise with the potential return of senior Shannon Eaton soon. Eaton has not been able to play much this year because of a severe cold. She tried to come back against West Jessamine but things did not work out.
"I just try to keep them motivated and do stats on the bench," Eaton said. "I also see how the game is going teaching (my teammates) what they need to do."
Highlands placed three players on the all-tournament team in Sydney Ossege, McQueary and Claudia Hils. Former Ladybird Haley Dougherty made the team for Simon Kenton.
Highlands does not have long to get down before 36th District arch-rival Newport Central Catholic (9-0-1) comes to town Monday. Game time is 8 p.m. at Tower Park.