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Friday, October 23, 2020

Highlands Volleyball Captures Fourth Straight District Crown

Bluebirds Best 'Breds in Five

The Final point in Game Five.

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior setter Maria Little (3) goes up for a set while Laura Winkler (14) and CC Shick (23) get in position.

When Highlands Bluebirds junior middle blocker/right side hitter CC Shick and Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds senior middle blocker Madison McCloskey wound up and followed through, the balls slammed to the ground more often that not.

It turned into a matter of which team made fewer mistakes, found them, the other hitters and made their supporters roar better in determining the 36th District champion at Dayton High on Thursday. Trailing 2-1 entering the fourth set, Highlands (13-7 overall) responded pulling out the fourth set (25-19) then the deciding fifth set (15-4) to beat the improved Thoroughbreds (15-10), 3-2 for a fourth straight district championship.

"I think this season (shortened because of Coronavirus 2019) has been a tough one for a lot of teams including us," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "We had to fight to just kind of figure out who we were as a team after losing (five seniors to graduation from last year) and clawing back against I think the best NC team we've seen in a few years. It was a hard fight. We were ready for it and we came out strong."

Tournament Most Valuable Player Shick had nearly half of the 51 Highlands kills with 25. Senior setters Maria Little and Laura Winkler set her and the other hitters at different angles. Shick also tapped some balls to openings around the blocks and hit to the sides.

"I just want to say that we came out here really strong," Shick said. "We came out swinging hard and it was a good team effort win. We connected really well from back row to front row. We were communicating really well on all parts of the court."

McCloskey unofficially had 23 kills. But she had none in the fifth game.

Winkler had eight kills, 20 assists and 13 digs. Juniors Avery Cavacini and Lauren Buemi had five kills each. Little had 27 assists, 10 digs and two aces.

Highlands did manage eight blocks in the game. Shick had three solo and three assisted blocks. Cavacini had two solo blocks with junior Sophia Sarakatsannis having two assisted blocks and Buemi one.

"I think the mental battle to stay positive, focused, steady was important and did that," Sallee said. "To have the tools that we have offensively and to be creative helped us a ton to say, 'Hey. We can play her from this spot. We can play her from this spot.' We had options. It was a good night."

Highlands did big things when the first ball found the setters smoothly. The Bluebirds had 89 digs. Junior libero Madison Clore led the way with 26. Sarakatsannis had 18 and junior Honor Valentine had 11.

"We just needed to be confident and have the right mindset for the first pass," Clore said. "I think from there, we just started to improve. I think as long as we have a positive mindset throughout the rest of the season, we're going to go far."

Highlands also had eight aces in the victory. Valentine led the way with three.

Highlands scored the first three points in four of the five matches. The Bluebirds built an 11-1 lead in the first game. But NewCath came back and won 25-21.

The Bluebirds jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second game and did not look back. They won it 25-8.

NewCath scored the first two points of the second game. The Thoroughbreds went up 21-15. Highlands tied it 24-24 with three straight points before Lucy Simons and Riley McCloskey gave the Thoroughbreds the 26-24 win.

Highlands built a 3-0 lead in the fourth game. NewCath tied it 8-8 before the Bluebirds built a three-point lead. The Bluebirds jumped out to a 6-0 advantage in the deciding set. A Shick block put Highlands up 8-1 prompting a NewCath timeout. Junior Nicole Ossege scored the final point hitting the ball off a NewCath block and out of bounds.

"We had to push through it, get into a rhythm and get our energy back," Little said. "We did that by running our offense with good passes. We came together more. We know we have the power to do this."

The 9th Region Tournament will be held at Covington Holmes this year. The drawing is 10 a.m. Saturday. Highlands will face Cooper, St. Henry or Covington Holy Cross in the 9th Region Quarterfinals.

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