Story Matters

Story Matters

THE Official HHS Football Site

Sunday, October 16, 2016

9th Region soccer preview

Highlands soccer teams look to carry momentum into region tournament

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Solomon Farris (10) goes after the ball in the 36th District championship game against Newport Central Catholic on Tuesday. Farris leads Highlands with 34 points on the season with 15 goals and four assists. Highlands takes on Beechwood on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the 9th Region quarterfinals at Tower Park.
PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Karolyn Lukjan pursues the ball in the 36th District championship game Wednesday against Newport Central Catholic. Lukjan has been a huge key in the defensive backfield this season as Highlands enters the 9th Region Tournament starting Monday against St. Henry.
The host teams have no doubt enjoyed the successes under the bright lights of Tower Park this season.

The Highlands Ladybirds and Bluebirds soccer teams have put together outstanding seasons with 18-2-1 and 17-2-2 records respectively. That win total for the Bluebirds equals that of the 2013 9th Region championship and elite eight squad that finished 17-8-1 three years ago and the 2008 state runner-up squad that finished 17-4-4. The win total for the Ladybirds equals the win total of the 2008 state runner-up team that finished 18-4-4.

The Bluebirds followed up that wonderful regular season run with a 1-0 victory over Newport Central Catholic in the 36th District championship game Tuesday and the Ladybirds did the same with a 3-0 win over NewCath a day later allowing both teams to play host to 9th Region quarterfinal games. That marked the second district championship in three years for the Bluebirds and the ninth in 11 seasons for the Ladybirds.

But from here on out, both teams know that a third loss of the season will mark the final game. The Ladybirds hope to see four more games at Tower Park as Highlands is playing host to the girls 9th Region Tournament semifinals and championship game. The boys semifinal and title games take place at Ryle. The 9th Region winners will then play host to the 12th Region winners in the first round of the state tournament.

Both teams may be favorites slightly based on the regular season results. The Bluebirds are 11-0-1 in region play including the district championship win while the Ladybirds moved to 11-0 in region play with the two district wins. The only partial blemish for either team in region play came for the Bluebirds in a 0-0 tie against Cooper to open the season on Aug. 16 at Tower Park.

The Ladybirds received a great draw in the tournament while the Bluebirds may not have received the greatest one possible, but one big component went in their favor. Both teams hoped not to have to face arch-rivals and 35th District champion Notre Dame Pandas (16-6-1) and Covington Catholic Colonels (16-5-2) until the region championship games and the draw worked out that way.

"The 9th Region is crazy tough so and draw is what it is," said Matthew Winkler, Highlands Head Coach. "You're going to have to play well against tough competition to win the region no matter what you draw."

CovCath eliminated Highlands, 2-1 on penalty kicks on its way to the first-ever state championship for a Northern Kentucky team and Notre Dame beat Highlands, 1-0 in the 9th Region semifinals at St. Henry last year. The Pandas have beaten the Ladybirds in the semifinals the past two years and in the region title game in 2011 and 2013 on their way to five straight region championships and two state titles. No team has repeated as region champs in the four years of the current 9th Region format on the boys side.

The Ladybirds went 7-0 against the opponents in the 9th Region Tournament while the Bluebirds went 7-0-1 beating every other team in the region field except Cooper. The Ladybirds beat every team in the field except Boone County and Covington Holy Cross, whom they could see in the region semifinals on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Highlands had Holy Cross on the schedule originally, but not Boone County. Holy Cross had to cancel the original meeting because of obligations with the All "A" 9th Region Tournament, but a mutual make-up date could not be found.

The Ladybirds drew the 35th District runner-up St. Henry Lady Crusaders (8-10-2) at 7 p.m. Monday in the 9th Region quarterfinals at Tower Park. Highlands handed the Lady Crusaders a pair of 3-0 defeats on Aug. 25 and Sept. 26 both at Tower Park.

Ladybird Head Coach Brian Wiefering would love to see the region tournament seeded like the 36th District Tournament is done. He pointed out that the seeding would be Highlands as the top seed with the second through fourth seeds going to Notre Dame, Newport Central Catholic and Boone County respectively based on region play during the regular season. The draw happened to work out that way.

But he does not want the Ladybirds to enter Monday's game thinking the Lady Crusaders will lay down for them. St. Henry edged Highlands, 3-2 in Erlanger last year. St. Henry has a great past with a state championship in 2010 but has had its struggles under the guidance of first-year Head Coach Fran Szovati this season.

"(St. Henry) played us hard both times this season," Wiefering said. "We gave them everything we had for a 3-0 win both times, and each time, they did have opportunities. People say soccer is a funny game and anything can happen. The better team wins no matter what. The only stat that counts is the score. So we need to give 100 percent, focus on every little detail, but also play with confidence which means playing to win vs. playing not to lose. When our team plays with that type of confidence, they will be hard to beat."

The Ladybirds have outscored the opposition, 86-7 on the year with 17 shut-outs. Highlands junior Olivia McQueary and senior Shannon Eaton have given the Ladybirds solid play in between the pipes.

The Ladybirds have seen 20 different players score this year. The leaders are freshman Ali Gessner with 35 points on 13 goals and nine assists with sophomore Lindsey Meyer second with 29 points on 12 goals and five assists. Senior Sydney Ossege is third with 27 points on nine goals and nine assists.

"I think the team's work ethic as a while is really what makes us hard to beat," said Maria Broering, Highlands freshman. "Every member of this team shows up to every single game and practice determined to give nothing less than our very best effort. Our team has such a high level of skill that we spend hours upon hours working on the technical details to make our game that much better. But in reality, our biggest strength is our love for this game and this team. Even on the nights when our touch is just a little bit off, our mindset to never give up, win every ball, and push ourselves beyond our limits allows us to dominate every aspect of the game."

The Bluebirds drew Beechwood (9-10-3) in the region quarterfinals on Tuesday at the 7 p.m. Highlands beat the Tigers, 7-0 on Oct. 4. The winner will face either Ryle (17-4-2) or Dixie Heights in the semifinals Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

The Bluebirds have outscored the opponents, 68-15 on the season with 15 shutouts. Senior Paul Tully normally plays the first half at goalkeeper for Highlands and senior Simon Frink takes over in the second half.

Highlands has seen 17 different player score. Senior Solomon Farris leads the way with 32 points on 15 goals and two assists with senior Colton Dolezal is second with 28 points on nine goals and 10 assists. Senior Ethan Mills and junior Nick Gish are tied for third with 26 points. Mills has nine goals and eight assists and Gish has eight goals and 10 assists. Both teams concentrated on the ball-possession game down the stretch instead of just booting the ball up the field.

"We definitely want to improve with every game and every practice to keep going toward our goal of getting later in the state (tournament)," said Joe Broering, Highlands junior. "So in this game, we want to keep working (hard) and take the game seriously. We don't do anything special (to prepare). We try to come in focused. As we warm up, we try to get game-ready and make sure we know what's ahead so that we can come out with a win."

The championship games take place Saturday. The boys title game is at 4:30 p.m. with the girls playing at 7:30 p.m.

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