|Bluebirds Put Up Fight Against Lady Jaguars|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands juniors, from left, Lauren Buemi, CC Shick and Nicole Ossege line up in the region quarterfinal game against Cooper on Tuesday.|
The Highlands Bluebirds volleyball team (13-8 overall) has not beaten three teams that consistently make the 9th Region Tournament since the current 9th Region alignment started in 2012.
Those three teams are Notre Dame, St. Henry and Cooper. Highlands drew the 33rd District runner-up Cooper Lady Jaguars (13-4) to open the 9th Region Tournament at Covington Holmes on Tuesday after winning a fourth straight 36th District Tournament on Thursday.
Highlands battled Cooper in a 3-1 loss. The Bluebirds took the first game, 25-22 and fought hard in the second in a 25-23 defeat. But Highlands could not keep up the face in the next two games losing 25-14 and 25-16.
"We've played them this season and that was super helpful for us because we had film," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "We didn't always get to scout and prepare as well as we did so we came into this match really prepared, really focused, as ready as you can be for weapons like that and I feel like we handled that really well in the first two sets. We also knew that we had to be at our very best. We didn't have a lot of room for errors and a lot of runs. Then you get a little later in the match, maybe some fatigue sets in. I think there was a little bit of a release that caught up with us."
Highlands has lost 14 in a row to Cooper overall. The last Bluebirds victory in the series came by a 2-1 score (25-17, 17-25, 15-13) on Sept. 19, 2009 in a game at Lexington Tates Creek.
Highlands had 44 kills and assists in the loss to go with no aces, three solo and 10 assisted blocks and 102 digs. In their final games, senior Laura Winkler finished with four kills, 41 assists and 12 digs and senior Maria Little had 14 digs.
The Bluebirds knew they had to make things happen at the net to win the game including getting hands on the hard hits from the likes of Cooper seniors Savannah Snebold, Kaitlyn Luebbers and junior Buchi Ajaezu. Junior CC Shick led that effort with 13 kills, two solo and three assisted blocks. Junior Nicole Ossege had nine kills. Junior Lauren Buemi had seven kills and three assisted blocks with junior Avery Cavacini recording seven kills, one solo and two assisted blocks.
Highlands did dig up a number of balls to set to those hitters. Junior Sophia Sarakatsannis led the way with 26 digs and junior Honor Valentine had 20.
The fact that Highlands had a season is not lost on the team. Coronavirus 2019 has led governors in other states such as New Mexico to move seasons to the spring. Sallee admitted she had to tell herself to stop it when a negative thought came into her mind and be grateful for the season.
"I just feel we all played at the varsity level for so long so I think just being a part of the region tournament this year just meant a lot to have a last round," Winkler said. "I'm pretty sure we're going to keep going next year and be even better."
The Bluebirds return a solid core to build around for 2021. The main need will be at setter. Little and Winkler handled that role this year.
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