|Highlands Girls Face Dixie Heights in Region Championship|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Austin Frazier (middle) gets in position against Ryle in the 9th Region semifinals Monday.|
The Highlands Bluebirds soccer teams faced undefeated 33rd District champion teams in the 9th Region semifinals on Monday.
The host team advanced in each case. Over at Tower Park, the Highlands girls soccer team (14-1-2 overall) shut out the Cooper Lady Jaguars (13-1-2), 3-0 to advance to the region championship for the third straight season. Over in Union, the Ryle Raiders (14-0-1) stayed unbeaten on the season with a 3-1 win over the Bluebirds (10-4-2) denying Highlands a fourth straight trip to the region championship game.
"Cooper had a fantastic season this year," said Alex Dean, Highlands Head Coach. "We had a little bit of edge to us because we knew they're a good team. We didn't know what they had and we made to make sure that we didn't take them lightly. Being undefeated is tough to do. They made us work pretty hard for it."
The Highlands girls recorded their 13th shutout of the season including the last seven games to advance to the region championship against the Dixie Heights Lady Colonels (15-2-1) back at Tower Park on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Dixie Heights beat the Notre Dame Pandas (15-3), 2-1 earlier in the day.
Notre Dame is not playing for a region championship for the first time since 2005. The first of consecutive state championship Highlands squads beat Notre Dame, 1-0 in the 10th Region semifinals after losing 1-0 to Newport Central Catholic in the old 19th District title game. But the Bluebirds beat NewCath, 1-0 in a shootout in the region title game on their way to the state title.
Highlands had 15 shots including nine on goal to none for the Lady Jaguars. The Bluebirds had seven fouls to two for Cooper. Highlands senior goalkeeper Jasmine Rehberger and junior goalkeeper Megan Gessner combined for the shutout.
Junior midfielder Faith Broering scored twice to lead the Bluebirds with four points and senior defender Greta Noble scored the other one. Broering has 14 goals and six assists for 34 points this season and Noble has three goals and four assists for 10 points.
"Going into the game, we definitely knew that they had some strong players up top," Noble said. "We really worked hard to become a unit in our defense this year, especially playing it through the back switching the ball around. We knew that if we played our game, we'd be able to (record shoutouts)."
Freshman forward Laney Smith recorded her eighth assist on the season and junior Jade Rehberger added to her team-high total 11th assist. Jade Rehberger took eight corner kicks in the victory. Smith leads Highlands with 20 goals and 48 points.
"It definitely says a lot because our strikers are doing a great job getting down (the field) and fighting for the ball," Jade Rehberger said. "They're winning spots giving us a lot of great opportunities to get some goals. We've definitely had a great win or go home mentality the whole season, especially with it being shortened and we didn't know if it could end during the regular season."
Cooper had 11 different players score goals during the season. Freshman striker Maleah Alexander led the way with 19 to go with six assists for 44 points.
"We made sure that we watched her and we had some girls kind of spying on her," Dean said. "Our defense did a great job. That's a big testament to our focus and our team defense."
Over in Union, Ryle scored twice in the last 15 minutes to win the physical game that saw the Raiders record two yellow cards and the Bluebirds one. Senior Gavin Hawkins scored the game-winner with 13:52 left in the game and senior Lance Paul added the insurance goal with 2:12 left.
"I just can't say enough about the seniors. They've been role models to this group all along," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "Their work rate is fantastic. With all that went on this spring and summer, there were a handful of guys working to get the touches in because we couldn't get together. When we were able to get together, they led the way by example."
Ryle had seven shots with six on goal to just two shots with one on goal for Highlands. Sophomore goalkeeper Connor Mathis had three goals for the Bluebirds.
The Raiders scored the game's first goal with 26:22 left in the first half when Hawkins scored the first of two. But Highlands senior Max Farris took a corner kick to his left and fired it home for his ninth of the season. Senior Brayden Gillman recorded his ninth assist on the season.
"It's sad it's come down to this," Niedert said. "Credit to Ryle. (The Raiders) are a great team. They were better than us (Monday). They had the better side of chances. We had some chances to where we could have evened this up. We'll be back. I have no doubt about it."
This marked the final game for 11 Highlands seniors in Farris, Gillman, Hank Cook, Jack Banks, Gabe Beiting, Ben Fischer, Austin Frazier, Colton Vogt, Carter Smith, Hank Slaby and Eli Karnes. Highlands won consecutive region championships and finished state runner-up two years ago while the were in high school.
"It's been really nice," Vogt said. "We've all been here for a long time - some of us since the eighth grade staying together for the whole time. We've grown really close. We're a great group of people. We work really well together and I think some friendships will definitely stay into college and definitely for the rest of our lives."
Both Highlands teams beat Newport Central Catholic by identical 6-0 scores last week at Tower Park. That marked the fifth straight district championships for both teams.
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