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The Highlands Bluebirds volleyball team (8-2 overall) finished 5-1 in the Bluegrass Invitational in Lexington going 2-1 winning the silver championship.
Highlands ran into a 9th Region nemesis in the morning in the Cooper Lady Jaguars, 2-0. But the Bluebirds bounced back to beat 1st Region power McCracken County and Lexington Lafayette by 2-0 scores.
"I was pretty thrilled with how we bounced back (Saturday) morning," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "It was pretty rough against Cooper. I didn't feel like we represented who we are and what we can do. We'll get another crack at them later, which I'm looking forward to toward the end of the season. To play five matches in two days and finish strong, we sailed through the last match against McCracken."
The Bluebirds lost 25-10, 25-14 to Cooper to start the day. Both Highlands losses have come against teams from the 33rd District.
Highlands had 18 kills and assists along with 17 digs, no aces and no blocks. Seniors Lauren Buemi and CC Shick had four kills each and senior setter Madison Opitz had eight assists. Senior Sophia Sarakatsannis had seven digs and senior Madison Clore had four.
This marked the 14th straight loss to the Lady Jaguars, who also eliminated the Bluebirds in the 9th Region quarterfinals last year. Highlands last beat Cooper, 2-1 (25-17, 17-25, 15-13) on Sept. 19, 2009. Cooper opened in 2008.
Cooper is one of three teams that regularly makes it to the region tournament that Highlands has yet to defeat since Sallee became the head coach in 2014. The other two form the 9th Region "wall" in St. Henry and defending state champion Notre Dame.
"(Cooper) has definitely earned the right to be considered (near the) top of the region," Sallee said. "We want to be able to contend a little bit better than we did (Saturday) and I think we can so we're eager. A lot of it for us is about playing Highlands volleyball regardless of who is across the net. It's about not taking an opponent either for granted or giving too much credit to someone and being focused on what we can do."
Highlands beat the defending 1st Region champion McCracken County Lady Mustangs by 25-15, 25-14 scores. The Lady Mustangs lost to eventual state champion Notre Dame in the state quarterfinals last year.
Highlands had 23 assists and kills, five aces, three solo blocks, four assisted blocks and 38 digs. Opitz had 21 assists and seven digs.
Buemi had three aces, four kills, one solo, one assisted block and two digs. Shick had six kills and an assisted block. Sarakatsannis had seven kills, one ace and two digs. Senior Avery Cavancini had three kills, two digs, two solo and one assisted block.
Senior Honor Valentine led Highlands with 10 digs. Clore added five.
"I think that when we have good matches, it really energizes our team and we really feel confident going forward," Valentine said. "Our last two games were really good for our mentality. We just want to be better for each other."
The Bluebirds also defeated Lexington Lafayette by 25-23, 25-21 scores. Highlands had 24 kills and assists, three aces, two solo and four assisted blocks and 38 digs. Opitz led Highlands with 23 assists and had six digs.
Shick had nine kills, one assisted block and four digs for the Bluebirds. Buemi had four kills, one ace, one solo block, two assisted blocks and two digs. Sarakatsannis had three kills, one ace and 13 digs. Senior Nicole Ossege had five kills and one solo block. Valentine and Clore added six digs.
The Bluebirds play host to Walton-Verona on Wednesday. Game time is 7 p.m.
Highlands 2, Lexington Lafayette 1:
The Bluebirds (3-0 overall) earned another tough road win.
"This was another good team win," said Chris Norris, Highlands Head Coach. "We moved the ball really well. We played in a slightly different formation that we came up with this week to combat some injuries that we have. The wheels are turning well now. As long as we're able to keep a few more people healthy for the next couple weeks, I think we're going to have a nice little run."
The Bluebirds had 12 shots to six for Lafayette. Highlands senior goalkeepers Meg Gessner and Hailey Parks split halves at goalkeeper. Gessner had three saves.
Highlands sophomore forward Laney Smith scored both goals for four points. Smith and senior midfielder Faith Broering lead the Bluebirds with three goals and six points each. Smith scored the game-winner with about four minutes left in the game. Smith said has played club soccer with some of the Lafayette players.
Senior defender Jade Rehberger and senior forward Chloe Bramble had the assists. Rehberger has a team-high four assists this year and Bramble has two.
"Our defense really stepped up," Smith said. "Jade Rehberger was playing the long balls out wide. They would just cross them in. We tried to get them off as fast as we could. We just couldn't get anything in. So the goal really meant a lot to me. I was knocking on the door the entire time. I'm proud that I scored the goal for the team."
Highlands faces its two biggest rivals in the 9th Region next in the Notre Dame Pandas (7-0) and Newport Central Catholic Throughbreds (5-1). The Bluebirds have won three straight against the Pandas.
"I think Monday's going to be tough no doubt about it," Norris said. "They've been thinking about this game for about a month now. I want them to play with that heart. I want them to play with that drive. I want them to play with that little chip on their shoulders. But then I also want them to remember we have to remain composed. I think (Saturday) helped. I think the game at Assumption helped. I think they know what they have to do. Now it's just going out there, executing and making it happen."
The Notre Dame game is Monday at 8 p.m. at Tower Park.
Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder 4, Highlands 0:
The Bluebirds (4-2-1) fell on the road against the Panthers (1-1) from the Greater Catholic League South.
Both teams had 10 shots on goal. Highlands had 15 fouls, seven corner kicks and no red or yellow cards. Sophomore goalkeeper Jack Wilson had four saves for the Bluebirds and junior goalkeeper Connor Mathis had two.
The Bluebirds take on Covington Holy Cross on Tuesday. Game time is 8 p.m.
Football, Junior Varsity:
Highlands 55, Simon Kenton 0:
Highlands opened the season with a convincing win.
Sophomore quarterback Cam Bottom threw four touchdown passes and rushed for one in the Highlands win. Sophomore running back Cam Giesler rushed for one touchdown and sophomore Mateo Matteoli had two touchdown receptions. Sophomores Ryan DeBurger and Davis Hinegardner had one receiving touchdown each.
Sophomores Nate Welch and Zach Bracken had interceptions for Highlands. Freshman Adam Surrey had a touchdown pass from Nolan Schwalbach and Hayden Haas threw a touchdown pass to eighth grader Rio Litmer.
The Bluebirds travel to Campbell County on Saturday. Game time is 10 a.m.
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