|First Victory over Thoroughbreds since 2012|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands sophomore Casey Dunn (middle) bumps the ball ahead in a recent game while teammate Gracie Schweitzer (left) watches.|
It just became a matter of proving it. After battling some injuries last week, the Highlands Ladybirds had everyone back Thursday and put together a nice three-day stretch of volleyball going 5-1 to move above .500 on the season at 6-5 overall for the first time this season.
Highlands won all three games Saturday to finish off its best showing at the September Slam at Scott High in the seven straight years it has played in it. The Ladybirds recorded a 4-1 record and third-place finish out of 10 teams. In the previous six seasons in the September Slam, the Ladybirds had just one winning record at 3-2 in 2012.
But the icing on the cake came in the form of a 2-0 (25-18, 25-20) win over the 36th District arch-rival Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds in the third-place game. That marked just the second win over NewCath in the last 26 meetings that included a 3-0 (26-24, 25-23, 25-20) loss to NewCath in Fort Thomas in the district seed game on Aug. 22.
The last time Highlands beat NewCath during the regular season came by a 2-1 (25-23, 21-25, 25-21) score back on Sept. 20, 2005 in Fort Thomas. Since then, the only other Highlands win in the series came in the 2012 36th District championship game by a 3-0 (25-22, 26-24, 25-20) score. Highlands did gain confidence with a win over NewCath in the Bluegrass Games in July.
"I think our performance at our home gym in that environment was not telling of really who we are as a team. We showed a lot of balance (Saturday), a lot of composure," Sallee said. "We're not relying on one person. We've got a lot of talent and a lot of unity on the court. I think that showed. Seeing it done that quickly and that efficiently was exciting to see."
The solid play started with the nice first passes off serves and digs on spikes from players such as senior Gracie Schweitzer and junior Olivia Gessner. When that first pass came to sophomore setter Audrey Graves in the right position, she set the Highlands hitters up for kills or force NC into mistakes. Schweitzer finished with 12 digs and Graves finished with 23 assists and four kills.
Sophomore Casey Dunn and junior Margot Seidel led Highlands with six kills each. But seniors Maddie McCoy, Mary Claire Redden and sophomore two-year starter Ava Hockney gave the Ladybirds balance. They had success hitting toward the left and right lines and worked their way all over the court. Seidel and Dunn finished with six kills each.
"We really like to look at the match-ups against the other team so we know what plays to run and where the blockers are so we can hit around it," Hockney said. "I think we'll really start to play better as a team having the confidence after beating NC."
Highlands also tried to slow down the NC offense led by senior Mikah Freppon at the net with solid blocking. Hockney had three blocks and McCoy had one. Redden helped with double blocks on Freppon.
"We just like to put as many hands up (as we can) so we can help out our defense and try to slow the ball down as much as we can or keep it on the other side of the net," Redden said. "(It's about) putting your hands and hoping it hits (your hands). That's all you can do."
Highlands never trailed in either game scoring the first three points both times. Seidel ended the first game on a kill from Graves and the matches ended in the second game off a NewCath net error.
"We were in system a lot. That helped. We were able to be aggressive getting them out of system as much as possible," Sallee said. "We were not only servicing, but our defense was there. We were able to take digs and transition them into a middle attack. When we do that, we're going to win. If we can't do that, if we're relying too much on one hitter or if we're relying too much on one person to get all the swings, (opponents) are going to overload (blockers to that side)."
Highlands started the day with a 2-0 (25-7, 25-22) win over Boone County. Seidel and Hockney had eight kills and Dunn had six. Dunn added six aces and Hockney had two blocks. Graves had 21 assists and Schweitzer had nine digs.
The Ladybirds then beat the Southwestern Lady Warriors from the 12th Region just outside Somerset by a 2-1 (25-18, 23-25, 15-10) score. Southwestern won the 12th Region two years ago and advanced to the state quarterfinals. Graves had 27 assists and two aces. Hockney led Highlands in that game with nine kills with Seidel and McCoy following with seven and five respectively. Schweitzer and Seidel had 15 and 13 digs respectively.
Highlands plays host to St. Henry on Tuesday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.