|Highlands Soccer Teams Advance in Region Tournament|
|PHOTO: Matt Carothers. Highlands senior goalkeeper Jasmine Rehberger (0) congratulates freshman Laney Smith (1) after a goal earlier this season.|
The Highlands Bluebirds soccer teams opened the 9th Region quarterfinals Saturday at Tower Park against the Covington Holy Cross Indians teams playing as consistent as they had been lately.
The Highlands girls (13-1-2 overall) started the afternoon continuing its offensive explosion of late shutting out Holy Cross (8-8-1), 7-0 before the Highlands boys (10-3-2) overtook the Indians (10-5-1), 2-0. That marked the 12th shutout for the Highlands girls including the last six games and the seventh for the Highlands boys including the last four games.
The Highlands teams advanced to the 9th Region semifinals Monday against undefeated teams. The Highlands girls play the Cooper Lady Jaguars (13-0-2) and the Highlands boys travel to Ryle (13-0-1). Both games start at 8 p.m.
The region championship games take place Wednesday at 8 p.m. Highlands Principal Matt Bertasso said the times could change if both teams advance to the title games.
In the first game, Highlands put up 27 shots to two for Holy Cross. Highlands junior goalkeeper Megan Gessner recorded one save.
"We did not put in as many goals as we wanted to in the first half," said Maggie Stieby, Highlands senior midfielder. "We're really working on taking the opportunities that we're given. Obviously, the games are just going to get more competitive the longer go on. Obviously, when we're going to be playing these high-level teams, we're not going to get as many opportunities. We really do have to finish them when we get the chance."
Highlands freshman forward Laney Smith led the way with a hat trick of three goals and an assist for seven points. Smith's totals on the season are 20 goals and seven assists for a total of 47 points. Smith leads the Bluebirds in goals and points.
Highlands junior forward Chloe Bramble had a goal and two assists for four points. Bramble has six goals and eight assists on the season. Stieby also had two assists for four on the season.
Highlands junior defender Jade Rehberger took 18 corner kicks and landed an assist on a goal with 22:11 left in the game to put the Bluebirds up 5-0 for her ninth season. Senior versatile Kenzie Nehus shot the ball and Bramble finished it. That marked Nehus' first assist. Rehberger had two assists in the game for a team-high 10 on the season.
Highlands had 10 assists total to go with 19 corner kicks, three free kicks, two fouls and two offsides calls. The Indians had four fouls.
The Bluebirds led 2-0 at halftime. Freshman forward Claire Cavacini played the ball down the line and Smith finished it with 34:55 left in the first half. That is Cavacini's second assist this season.
The second Highlands goal of the half came with 12:21 remaining. Senior defender Greta Noble passed the ball down the line to freshman forward Lindsay Stein. Stein laid the ball back to Noble for the finish. That is Stein's first assist this season.
Highlands pulled away with five goals in the second half. The first goal came with 37:34 left in the first half when Jade Rehberger dribbled to the right corner and passed to Smith in the middle for the finish.
The second goal came with 31:40 left in the game. Stieby headed the ball to Smith. Smith passed the ball to sophomore midfielder Alyssa Harris for the shot and score. Harris has two goals of the season.
The fourth goal of the half came with 20:41 left in the game. Junior forward Macy Hedenberg scored her third goal of the season off a corner kick.
The final goal came with three minutes left. Bramble passed the ball to Stieby and Stieby passed it to Smith for the finish.
The second game saw the Bluebirds avenge a 2-2 tie against the Indians to open the season Sept. 8 at Tower Park. Highlands had 22 shots with seven on goal to go with three corner kicks. The Indians had 10 shots including five on goal. Highlands sophomore goalkeeper Connor Mathis had five saves.
Highlands contained Holy Cross senior Holden Lipscomb. Lipscomb had the two goals against the Bluebirds during the regular season and a total of 31 goals and seven assists for 69 points on the season entering the 35th District championship game against Covington Catholic.
"We kind of knew where (Lipscomb) was at any given moment," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "He's a hard worker and he's talented with the ball. His greatest talent is he just sneaks up on you. We ended up playing pretty well, especially in the first half. Then once we got to the second half, we did enough to kind of get the result keeping in mind really we just have to win. Now is not the time to press everything. There's no advantage to going up 6-0. We had a pretty dominant night where we kept the majority of the possession."
Highlands struck first with 32:35 left in the first half. Senior Brayden Gillman scored on an assist from sophomore Collin Pieper. The duo had three points each. Gillman has six goals and eight assists for 20 points and Pieper has seven goals and five assists for 19 points.
The Bluebirds added the second goal with 12:25 left in the game. Pieper scored the goal and Gillman had the assist.
"I'd say we were in complete control the whole game playing our best soccer," said Jack Banks, Highlands senior. "I hope we keep it rolling. Over the season, we developed a different formation the back and the midfield. That contributed to all the shutouts we've been getting lately including the one we had (Saturday)."
Both Highlands teams have won the last two 9th Region championships. The two teams finished state runner-up in 2018 and the Highlands girls advanced back to the state title game in 2019 losing 1-0 to Greenwood. The Highlands boys lost 2-1 on penalty kicks (4-3) against eventual state champion Lexington Henry Clay in the state quarterfinals at Tower Park last year.
Highlands ran in the Class AA Meet of Champions at the Bourbon County Park in Paris. But the Bluebirds did not run full teams with just three going for the Highlands girls and four for the Highlands boys.
Freshman Malcolm Robertson finished fourth to lead the Highlands boys in 17 minutes, 9.9 seconds out of 48 runners. Sophomore Eden Brumer led the Highlands girls finishing eighth out of 38 runners in 20:59.2.
The Class 2A, Region 4 meet is Oct. 24 at the Mason County Cross Country Facility. The girls run at 12:15 p.m. and the boys run at 1 p.m.
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