|Bluebirds Roll to Fifth Straight District Crown|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Kenzie Nehus (middle) and freshman Claire Cavacini (5) go after a corner kick in the 36th District championship Tuesday. Highlands won 6-0.|
The first goal came just two minutes into the game.
The Highlands Bluebirds girls soccer team (12-1-2 overall) rolled to a fifth consecutive 36th District championship and 10th straight win over the arch-rival Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (8-8) by a 6-0 count at Tower Park. The result is similar to what the Highlands boys soccer team did earlier Tuesday.
This marked the first district championship for a number of players new to varsity this year. This includes senior defender Kelsey Listerman who did not play as a junior last year.
Senior Ashley Herfel has been helping out the team this year on game days. She was not able to play this year after tallying an assist last year.
"It means a lot to be part of the team my senior season even though I can't be on the field with everybody else," Herfel said. "I'm really thankful that the coaches gave me the opportunity because it means the world to me."
Things again started with the Highlands defense that picked up its 11th shutout of the season. The Bluebirds have outscored opponents, 53-7 on the season. Highlands has scored 15 goals in the last two games.
Highlands had 26 shots to just three for NewCath consistently winning balls all over the field, especially the midfield. That led to dominance in ball-possession soccer.
The Bluebirds had 15 shots on goal. Highlands senior goalkeeper Jasmine Rehberger had to make just one save compared to 12 by NewCath sophomore goalkeeper Sofia Rodriguez.
"We learned a lot from the first time we played them," said Alex Dean, Highlands Head Coach. "We broke down some film. We realized that we had to move the ball to get in behind. Our finishing has improved the last couple games. It was good to have them focused during our practices in getting us prepared for (Tuesday). A lot of credit to our girls and a lot of credit to NC. (The Thoroughbreds) made it difficult for us the entire 80 minutes."
NewCath has scored 10 goals twice this year and posted five shutouts. Junior Rylee Turner entered the game leading the Thoroughbreds with 20 goals and eight assists for 48 points.
"They made some big runs. Rylee Turner has a big presence up top," Listerman said. "She's fast and has a long stride so it's important to cover her. Defensively, we covered each other and had great communication. That's what leads to our defensive success."
The leading point-scorers led the way to victory offensively for the Bluebirds. Freshman forward Laney Smith had two goals an assist for five points. Junior forward Chloe Bramble and junior midfielder Faith Broering had one goal and one assist for three points.
Smith has a team-high 17 goals and six assists for 40 points. Broering has 12 goals and six assists for 30 points and Bramble has five goals and six assists for 16 points. Junior defender Jade Rehberger had another assist to up her team-high total to eight.
Broering took a pass from senior midfielder Maggie Stieby from the right side and angled the low ball to the lower post for the score for that first goal. That is Stieby's second assist of the season.
Highlands had a chance to score minutes later on a penalty kick. NewCath committed a hand ball foul in its own box. But the shot sailed high and wide. The Thoroughbreds had three fouls to just two for the Bluebirds.
But the Bluebirds still built a 3-0 halftime lead. The second goal came with 9:17 left in the first half when junior forward Macy Hedenberg laid the ball off to sophomore midfielder Alyss Harris. Harris veered the ball to the lower left post for the score. That marked the first goal for Harris and second assist for Hedenberg.
Highlands beat NewCath just 3-0 just eight days ago at Tower Park. The Bluebirds did not score the goals until the second half.
The third goal came with 2:48 left in the game. Senior midfielder Jordan Stuempel crossed the ball to Smith for the score. That is Steumpel's first assist of the season.
"(An early goal) takes weight off our girls up top as well as our defenders," Dean said. "(With) the way that we've been playing this year, one goal has given us wins. We have a lot of confidence in our defense. Being able to put three in the first half was a big thing for us so we're looking for that in the future."
The Bluebirds put two in during the first 10 minutes of the second half. Jade Rehberger had a corner kick. Smith headed the ball and freshman forward Claire Cavacini finished it for her fifth goal of the season with 33:35 left in the game.
The fifth Highlands goal came with 31:05 left in the game. Bramble took a long pass from Broering and finished it. Minutes later, Smith scored her second goal to make the final score.
The huge lead let the reserves see more action. That included freshman forward Lindsay Stein. Stein has a goal on the season.
"I used to get really nervous the first time going in," Stein said. "But now I've just learned to get used to it, go with the flow and try your best during the time you get in."
Jade Rehberger and Harris made the all-tournament team. Broering won tournament most valuable player honors.
Highlands will play host to 35th District runner-up Covington Holy Cross to start the 9th Region Tournament on Saturday at Tower Park at 5:30 p.m. The Bluebirds have won the last two region championships on their way to state runner-up finishes.
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