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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Notre Dame Hands Highlands Girls Soccer First Loss of Season

Bluebirds Hope to Bounce Back at NCC

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior forward Anna Melson (3) gets in position in the game against Notre Dame on Monday.

The hype going into the rivalry game led the usual high turnout.

The Highlands Bluebirds and Notre Dame Pandas girls soccer teams came into the game a combined 10-0. It had the makings of another good game in the storied histories of these two solid programs. It also marked the debut of two new head coaches in the rivalry in Chris Norris for Highlands and Suli Kayed for Notre Dame.

But this game belonged to the visitors. The Pandas (8-0 overall) scored 16 minutes into the game when senior Macie Feldman hit a free kick from about 50 yards out that bounced through everyone into the net and added two more in the second half on the way to a 3-0 shut-out over the Bluebirds (3-1). Highlands had won the previous three meetings against Notre Dame.

The Pandas have outscored opponents, 30-1 on the season with seven shutouts. Cincinnati (Ohio) Mercy McAuley is the only team to score on Notre Dame this season in a 3-1 loss in Park Hills on Aug. 21.

The second Notre Dame goal of the game came with 28 minutes left in the game. Senior Ella Simkonis raced down the right side and scored.

"At the beginning of the second half, I thought we had them a little bit on the ropes," Norris said. "We were attacking, attacking, attacking and they happened to catch a ball on top of the (18-foot-line) and take it 90 yards for a goal. Once we were down by two, you could kind of just see their confidence shoot through the roof. They were just pass, pass, pass. We ended up chasing them and couldn't get a handle on the ball."

Feldman added her second goal later in the second half making the final score. Feldman has four goals on the season.

Notre Dame saw all 10 shots go on goal with Highlands recording four shots including three on goal. Highlands senior goalkeepers Hailey Parks and Meg Gessner recorded four and three saves respectively.

"I think (the Pandas) had three blue collar goals," Norris said. "I think they worked hard for them. I thought we did a pretty good job of limiting their players. But we two freshmen in the back and they're learning how to play at the varsity level. Notre Dame has good speed. They have a good first touch. They know what they're doing and it paid off in the end for them."

Highlands takes on Newport Central Catholic (5-2-1) in a 36th District game Wednesday. Game time is 6:30 p.m. at Morsher Field.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Saturday Highlands Results

Highlands Volleyball, Girls Soccer Teams Earn Big Wins

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Honor Valentine (12) gets in position in a recent game. The Highlands volleyball team took the silver championship in the Bluegrass Invitational in Lexington on Saturday.
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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.

Soccer, Girls:
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.

Soccer, Boys:
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.

Highlands Football Notebook

Highlands Volleyball Goes 2-0 in Lexington

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Madison Clore (left) and juniors Kenzi Vennefron (11) and Emma Daly (9) get in position in a recent game.

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For the first time since 2018, the Highlands Bluebirds have started the season 2-0.

It last happened in 2018 and 2017. Those teams lost to Scott County in the third game. The 2018 team finished 10-3 losing to Covington Catholic in both the regular season and in the region title game.

The Bluebirds won their last of 23 state championships in 2014. That team started the season 6-0. The last time Highlands finished undefeated came in a 15-0 run in 2011.

The Highlands 3-4 defense knows it has a number of ways to improve going forward after giving up 596 yards against Simon Kenton. But the Bluebirds did record two turnovers moving to a plus-four in the takeaway/giveaway margin. 

Highlands Head Coach Bob Sphire said the Bluebirds were behind in the weight room after the scrimmage against Louisville Male. The team had one practice day in pads last week because of the heat.

"That's not an excuse," Sphire said. "We have to find a way to get better at tackling. But (Simon Kenton) is really, really good."

The Highlands offense put up 600 yards of total offense against Simon Kenton including 196 on the ground. Highlands junior quarterback Charlie Noon is known for his scrambling abilities.

Highlands Offensive Coordinator Hayden Sphire said it is a matter of getting in the weight room and becoming more physical up front. Hayden Sphire credited junior Dawson Hosea for making hard, physical runs and taking care of the ball. The team will have a nice tandem in the backfield when senior Griffin Richter returns in a few weeks.

"We have a lot of improvement to do in the running game," Hayden Sphire said. "But I think we've gotten better."

Series Against Simon Kenton:

Highlands moved to 28-5 all-time against Simon Kenton. The Bluebirds have won three of the last four meetings since the teams began playing each other on a regular basis again in 2015.

The two did not play each other from 1999 through 2014. The Bluebirds and Pioneers played in the same district in the 1990s.

Scouting Campbell County:

Highlands will play the Camels on Friday at 7 p.m. in Fort Thomas for the first home game of the season. Campbell County (1-1) opened the season with a 21-0 blanking of Newport Central Catholic. But the Woodford County Yellow Jackets came to Alexandria on Friday and handed the Camels a 34-13 loss.

Woodford County put up 413 yards offensively in the win with 256 on the ground and 157 through the air. The Camels passed for just 37 yards in the loss.

Class 5A, District 5 Results:

The district finished 4-1 in non-district action Friday. Cooper also moved to 2-0 with a 19-10 win in Union over Dixie Heights.

Covington Catholic and Boone County are 1-1 with their first wins of the season. CovCath handled Class 3A power Belfry, 42-13 in the Pike County Bowl and Boone County beat Scott, 27-7.

The Conner Cougars fell to 1-1 with a 40-7 road loss at Ryle.

Highlands Volleyball in Bluegrass Invitational Volleyball Tournament:

The Bluebirds moved to 6-1 with two wins in the Bluegrass Invitational Volleyball Tournament.

Highlands beat Henry Clay, 2-0 (25-15, 25-17) before handling Logan County from the 4th Region located to the west of Bowling Green, 2-1 (25-22, 24-26, 15-10). Henry Clay won the 11th Region last year advancing to the state semifinals before losing to eventual state runner-up Louisville Mercy.

"We didn't know who we were going to come out and see," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "Obviously, usually they're not teams we play often. We took care of business very quick against Henry Clay. I was very pleased with that. Logan (County) was very tough. They ran a very fast offense and had some very talented hitters. But we handled that defensively, figured out what we needed to do and were able to execute. It was great. We're excited."

Highlands had 26 assists and kills, seven aces, three solo blocks and 23 digs against Henry Clay. Senior CC Shick led the Bluebirds with six kills. Senior Nicole Ossege had five kills with senior Lauren Buemi recording five kills to go with two blocks and two aces. Senior Avery Cavacini had four kills and a block.

"I think we had to dig deep and make sure we took care of business quickly and efficiently," Ossege said. "We had to come together as a team and push each other to play our best."

Highlands used both setters in the win. Junior Kenzi Vennefron had 13 assists and seven kills. Senior Madison Opitz had 12 assists. Senior Honor Valentine had five digs. Opitz and senior Sophia Sarakatsannis had two aces each. Sarakatsannis also had two kills and two digs.

Highlands had 26 kills and assists, five aces, four assisted blocks and 12 digs. Shick had eight kills and a block to lead the Bluebirds and Ossege had six. Sarakatsannis had five kills, two aces and four digs with Buemi contributing four kills, one block and one dig. Vennefron led Highlands with 15 assists.

Highlands played three games Saturday back in Lexington.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Thursday Highlands Results

Boys Soccer, Volleyball Record Victories

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior goalkeeper Connor Mathis gets in position in a recent game.

The Highlands Bluebirds boys soccer team (4-1-1 overall) hopes games like this become the norm.

Highlands came out strong in a 9th Region contest against the Conner Cougars (6-1-1) at Tower Park recording a 4-1 victory. The Bluebirds moved to 3-0 in region play.

"We're definitely one of the strong contenders in the area," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "We feel we had something to prove and we asserted ourselves. We're proud of the result. We played a lot better in the second half. We're starting to gel together as a team. We enjoy what we're doing and the results trickle from there."

The Bluebirds recorded 16 shots with 11 on goal. Highlands also had two offsides calls, eight fouls, five corner kicks and a yellow card. Highlands junior goalkeeper Connor Mathis and sophomore goalkeeper Jack Wilson made three saves each.

Senior forward/midfielder Jordan Frisk passed a nice through ball to junior forward Colin Piper for the game's first goal. That marked the third assist of the season for Frisk. 

Senior midfielder Cole Lorenzen scored his second goal of the season later in the half. The Bluebirds led 2-1 at halftime.

"When we get a couple goals early on, it helps build the momentum for the rest of the game and we never really looked back," said Nick Robinson, Highlands senior defender. "We kept everything in front. They tried to play some through balls back. We were just making sure they didn't get behind us. When they did, our keepers were there to scoop them up. We played the easy balls when they came to our feet and we cleared them when nobody was open."

Pieper scored his team-high fifth goal in the second half on a nice cross from junior midfielder Peyton Helminiak. Helminiak and Frisk lead the team with three assists each. Pieper owns team-highs with five goals and 10 points.

Sophomore forward/midfielder Chad Gesenhues scored the game's final goal later in the second half. That marked his third goal of the season.

Highlands travels across the river to face the Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder Panthers (0-1) on Saturday. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Panther Athletic Complex located at 1915 Quebec Road near Queen City Avenue.

Highlands 3, Scott 0:

Highlands moved to 4-1 with another sound home victory over the Lady Eagles (1-4) by 25-20, 25-9, 27-25 scores. The Bluebirds own two 3-0 victories this week.

"It's been a good sign," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "I still think we kind of had some drop-offs during the first and third (games). I think we're getting into some rhythms. I think we still have to make sure that we're consistent."

Highlands had 17 aces, 34 assists, 34 kills, two solo blocks and 60 digs in the victory. Senior outside/right side hitter Sophia Sarakatsannis led the Bluebirds with 19 digs to go with six kills and two aces. Senior defensive specialist Madison Clore followed with 15 digs. Senior Honor Valentine followed with eight digs and an ace.

"Other teams are pretty scrappy so we have to be scrappy as well," Clore said of getting into a rhythm. "Pushing through practice and trying to perfect each dig and each serve-receive has really been helping us. When we have tons of energy and we communicate with each other, that helps with the dig, set, kill."

Senior middle blocker/right side hitter CC Shick led Highlands with nine kills to go with three aces. Senior middle blocker/right side hitter Lauren Buemi had six kills, six aces and three digs. Senior right side/outside hitter Lauren Ossege had seven kills and senior middle blocker Avery Cavacini had five kills.

Junior setter Kenzi Vennefron led the Bluebirds with 27 assists. Senior setter/defensive specialist Madison Opitz had four assists and four digs.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Tuesday Highlands Results

Highlands Volleyball, Boys Soccer Beat Bishop Brossart

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands eighth grader Hayden Gessner gets in position in the win over Bishop Brossart on Tuesday.

Head Coach Katelyn Sallee had been wanting the Highlands Bluebirds volleyball team to finish matches sooner than going to fifth games.

The Bluebirds (3-1 overall) finished off the Bishop Brossart Lady 'Stangs (1-2) in the fewest games possible at 3-0 (25-7, 25-19, 25-10). Highlands has won three straight since opening the season with a home loss to Conner.

Highlands had to go five games in its first two wins over Campbell County and Beechwood. The loss to Conner ended in four games.

"Getting a taste of that (3-0) win is always good," Sallee said. "Then holding yourself to a standard is important. Once you've seen it in action, knowing what we need to do gets a little bit easier."

The Bluebirds had a good rhythm in the first and third games. But things did not go smooth in the second game.

"It's hard, especially in volleyball since it's such an emotionally attacking game," said Avery Cavacini, Highlands senior. "If you get down in any part or any aspect of the game, it's hard to come back. I think overall we did a pretty good job of lifting each other up throughout the points even when we made mistakes. It was great to see everyone have a good time."

Highlands had nine aces, 29 kills, 42 digs and two solo blocks. Senior CC Shick led Highlands with 13 kills. Senior Lauren Buemi had eight aces and Madison Clore recorded 14 digs.

All 16 players saw action in the game for the Bluebirds. That includes sophomore Annie Ellison and eighth grader Hayden Gessner.

"I like to have a great challenge," Gessner said of playing on varsity. "It pushes me mentally. It's a really great experience and it can help me grow throughout my high school years. I'm really excited for this season just to see what happens. (The upperclassmen) say to take your time and make it simple. You don't have to go crazy. Just focus on your specific area."

Highlands plays host to Scott (1-3) on Thursday. Game time is 7 p.m.

Soccer, Boys:
Highlands 4, Bishop Brossart 0:

The Bluebirds (3-1-1) started off strong and recorded a sound victory over the Mustangs (2-4).

Highlands had 23 shots with 10 on goal. Sophomore Chad Gesenhues led the way scoring his first two goals of the season as the Bluebirds led 3-0 at halftime. Senior Joel Kendall and junior Colin Pieper had the other two goals. Pieper has a team-high three goals on the season and Kendall has two.

"We played real strong overall," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "When we played (Louisville) Collegiate, we had a lot of good takeaways from that game. Our big thing against Bishop Brossart was to bring that same energy and intensity so we tried to keep the game simple early. We scored early on one of the corners. It lightens the load a bit and we just kind of opened everything up a little."

Junior Caden Schroeder had one assist. Brothers Sam Jones and Evan Jones had one each. That marked the first assists on the year for all three of them.

Highlands junior goalkeeper Connor Mathis made two saves and sophomore goalkeeper Jack Wilson made five. Wilson stopped a Bishop Brossart penalty kick.

"We were really good once we came out. We've been having some trouble in past games just trying to get that first half focus," said Sawyer Tate, Highlands senior defender. "We were able to dial in (Tuesday). It was pretty good."

Monday, August 23, 2021

Highlands-Bowling Green Notebook

Simon Kenton Next for Highlands

PHOTO: Lou Class. Highlands junior wide receiver Brennan Kelsay (17) hauls in a touchdown pass against Bowling Green on Saturday.

Bob Sphire joined a long list of head football coaches that won their debuts with the Highlands Bluebirds.

Highlands ventured down to Bowling Green and knocked off the defending Class 5A state champions, 21-18 on Saturday. The game took place at Western Kentucky University.

Sphire is the 20th head coach in the 107th season of Highlands Bluebirds football. The last six head coaches in Brian Weinrich, Dale Mueller, Tom Duffy, Bill Herrmann and Roger Walz and seven others of the 20 have won their head coaching debuts. Highlands knocked off Campbell County, 23-16 in Weinrich's debut in 2014 and Highlands beat Paducah Tilghman, 26-6 in Mueller's debut in 1994.

Weinrich took over the Newport Wildcats program in the off-season. Newport lost 16-7 against Mason County at home on Friday to open the season.

Four have lost their head coaching debuts and two tied in their coaching debuts. The last head coach to lose his debut was Mike Murphy. Dayton beat Highlands, 13-6 to open the 1967 season.

New Rule:

Highlands senior linebacker Jackson Higgason drew a 15-yard blindside block personal foul penalty against Bowling Green.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Football Rules Committee established the definition of a blindside block as "a block against an opponent other than the runner, who does not see the blocker approaching" at a meeting that took place January 20 through 22, 2018 in Indianapolis. The hope is to reduce injuries. The National Football League outlawed blindside blocks in 2019.

"You can lead with your hands and you can kind of absorb the guy," Sphire said. "But you can't launch. You can't lead with your shoulders, your helmet or any of that and that (foul) was pretty blatant. It's a good rule because that takes concussions and stuff out of the game a whole lot more. Nobody likes it because everyone always wants to see that big hit from the stands. But it's not good for the health of the kids."

Rest of Schedule:

This marks the longest road trip of the year for the Bluebirds. They had just two opponents on the schedule from outside the Kentucky's northern three Boone, Kenton and Campbell Counties.

The other game against an opponent outside the northern three Kentucky counties is Sept. 10 at Cincinnati (Ohio) McNicholas at 7 p.m. That trip is just above 10 miles from Highlands.

Class 5A, District 5 results:

The district finished 2-2 on Friday and 3-2 overall for the first week of the season. Cooper won 30-3 at George Rogers Clark and Conner knocked off Lexington Lafayette, 35-12. Covington Catholic lost 28-6 at Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder and Boone County lost 19-6 at home against Russell.

Series Against Bowling Green:

Highlands moved to 4-1 all-time against the Purples. The two programs had not met in the regular season since 1961 when Homer Rice was the head coach of the Bluebirds. Highlands beat Bowling Green, 26-13 in 1960 then 49-46 in 1961.

The two split in state championship games in Dale Mueller's 20 years as head coach. Highlands beat Bowling Green, 28-7 in the Class 5A title game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. Highlands assistant coach Matt Reed played on that team.

Bowling Green's lone win in the series came in the 1995 Class 3A title game. The Purples beat the Bluebirds, 28-12 in Mueller's second season. Kevin Wallace was the head coach of Bowling Green in both title games.

Scouting Simon Kenton:

The Pioneers lost 35-29 to the Oldham County Colonels on Friday in Independence. Simon Kenton allowed 410 yards defensively in the loss with 145 on the ground and 265 in the air.

Junior quarterback Chase Crone is in his third season starting for the Pioneers in their Spread offense. Crone completed 10-of-21 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the Pioneers with 105 yards rushing on 17 carries and a touchdown for an average of just more than six yards per carry.

Highlands is 27-5 all-time against Simon Kenton. But the Pioneers are 4-2 against the Bluebirds since resuming play in 2015. The two had not met since 1998 before resuming the series.

Saturday Highlands Results

Highlands Sophomore Wins Cross Country Race

Highlands sophomore Malcolm Robertson won the Panda Classic on Saturday in 18 minutes, 10.97 seconds. That marked the first boys cross country varsity race win of his career.

Highlands sophomore Malcolm Robertson captured his first varsity title winning the Panda Classic at Notre Dame in 18 minutes, 10.97 seconds.

"I took the lead after a half mile and slowly increased my lead until I was in control of the race and never looked back from there," Robertson said. "It feels good to start the season off right with a win and is a big confidence booster showing that my work has paid off."

Highlands took second in the boys race with 51 points. Villa Madonna won it with 42. The other scorers for the Bluebirds were junior Sam Hopper in 19:25.6, sophomore Owen McCain in 19:47.37, senior Thomas Gray-Torsell in 19:56.03 and junior John Laskey in 20:33.87.

"(Robertson) ran a smart race. He's been doing a lot of miles," said Brian Alessandro, Highlands Head Coach. "He's been training hard the last year. I think he's currently hitting 50 miles per week."

The Highlands girls did not field a full team for the race. Four ran in the race. Junior Eden Brumer led the way finishing eighth out of 37 runners in 24:16.26.

The Bluebirds next run in the Moeller Invitational on Friday. The races take place in Mason (Ohio).

Soccer, Girls:
Highlands 4, Assumption 2:

The Bluebirds (2-0) had not played in nine days. But they pulled away for the road win over the Rockets (3-1).

"We played okay in the first half," said Chris Norris, Highlands Head Coach. "But we were kind of playing (Assumption's) style. When we came out in the second half, we really focused on getting the ball to feet, having fun, making short passes, quick off the ball movements and it changed the flow of the game completely. We really had the majority of the possession in the second half and it was probably the most fun half of soccer we've seen this season for sure. The girls were smiling. Passes were being made left and right. They worked hard all week and it really paid off."

Senior midfielder Faith Broering led the way scoring two goals. Broering has a team-high three goals and six points on the season.

Highlands played at 11:30 a.m. in the middle of the day in 90 degree heat. Broering said that club teams play at those times all the time.

"I am incredibly proud of my teammates for the way the showed up for the game," Broering said. "Everybody played for each other. The heat was definitely an obstacle. But I think everyone was there mentally and physically ready to play in it and we came out hydrated."

Sophomore forwards Claire Cavacini and Laney Smith had one goal and one assist each and senior defender Jade Rehberger had the other assist. Cavacini has two goals and one assist on the season for five points. Rehberger has a team-high three assists and Smith recorded her first goal and assist on the season.

Highlands does not play again until hitting the road to face Lexington Lafayette (3-1-1). Game time is 7 p.m.

Soccer, Boys:
Highlands 2, Louisville Collegiate 2:

The Bluebirds (2-1-1) tied the Titans (2-0-1) in the Northern Kentucky Soccer Showcase at Ryle.

"We had some good opportunities. We knew it would be a tough test," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "Our guys had some growing pains and some things to work on after our (2-1 win) at St. Henry. We did a lot better in keeping possession and trying to build up."

Highlands had eight shots with four on goal. The Bluebirds had two offsides calls, seven fouls, one corner kick and one yellow card. Junior goalkeeper Connor Mathis had two saves.

Junior Colin Pieper had and senior Cole Lorenzen had the Highlands goals. Senior Joel Kendall and Jordan Frisk had assists. Pieper leads Highlands with two goals with Frisk tied for the team lead with two assists.

Highlands takes on Bishop Brossart (2-3) in Fort Thomas on Tuesday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Highlands Volleyball Wins Second Straight

Bluebirds Pull off Region Win

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Madison Clore sets up to serve in a recent game.

The Highlands Bluebirds volleyball team came away 2-1 playing three straight days to open the season.

Similar to the win at Campbell County on Wednesday, Highlands bested the Beechwood Tigers (1-1) by a 3-2 score (18-25, 25-20, 20-25, 25-17, 15-9). The Bluebirds are 1-1 in 9th Region action.

"They really just endured and kept the intensity up to the end, which is what you have to do against a really good team," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "I'm proud of them. We had a lot of offensive production at all areas of the court. It was pretty fun to watch even though it took too long."

The Bluebirds had 51 kills, 51 assists, eight solo blocks, 100 digs and eight aces. Senior Sophia Sarakatsannis had another good all-around game with 12 kills, 23 digs and two aces. Senior CC Shick led Highlands with 19 kills and three solo blocks to go with 10 digs and one assist.

Highlands senior Lauren Buemi followed with seven kills, three blocks, three digs and three aces. Seniors Avery Cavacini and Nicole Ossege had six kills each.

"I think that having the motivation there helps us work harder obviously," Buemi said. "We all love each other and we play as a team so whatever happens, happens. It's definitely a roller coaster I'd say. But for us to get into a rhythm, we just have to keep our energy high and not get down. Our thing this year is to have a mind of a goldfish. You can think about it for one second then you forget about it. That helps us."

Senior Madison Clore led Highlands with 24 digs to go with two assists. Senior Honor Valentine had 15 digs and three aces.

Junior setter Kenzi Vennefron led Highlands with 35 assists to go with 14 digs. Senior setter Madison Opitz had 13 assists.

"We still had to make some changes on some things," Sallee said. "I don't think anything is permanent this year. It may be one of those years where we have a lot of people who can do a lot of things. I'm doing (carrying a huge roster) because we're losing a lot and need people ready for next year. The beauty in that is we have a lot of people who can step in if we're struggling. That happened (Thursday). Kenzi Vennefron stepped in for us and did a nice job. All of our middles did an incredible job as well. Really, even our outsides did, too. It was a complete team effort. Serve receive and defense was better."

Highlands lists 16 as dressing on varsity an eighth grader in Hayden Gessner. Gessner, the younger sister of 2019 Highlands alum and former volleyball player Olivia Gessner and cousin of Highlands girls soccer senior goalkeeper Meg Gessner, saw action in one game against Campbell County and in two against Beechwood recording two digs. Hayden Gessner is the first eighth grader in Sallee's eight seasons to see varsity action.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Highlands Volleyball Bests County Rival

Highlands Earns First Win of Young Season

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Sophia Sarakatsannis (10) waits on the serve in a recent match.

The Highlands Bluebirds volleyball team (1-1 overall) ventured to Alexandria and knocked off the county rival Campbell County Camels (0-2) by a 3-2 score (23-25, 25-13, 25-21, 22-25, 15-12) on Wednesday.

"Honestly, it lacked a bit of that intensity, which is something we worked on throughout the match," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "We work a lot on creating energy not just waiting for it to show up. I think that helped us pull out of some ruts. We still have some stuff to work on. I didn't like that we pulled it five. We need to seal the deal a bit sooner."

Highlands had 45 digs, 45 assists, five solo blocks, 76 digs and 16 aces. Seniors CC Shick and Nicole Ossege led the Bluebirds with 13 kills each. Shick also had two solo blocks, two assists, five digs and an ace. Ossege also had one solo block and five digs. Senior Avery Cavacini had eight kills and four digs with senior Lauren Buemi recording three kills, three aces, two solo blocks and two digs.

Senior Sophia Sarakatsannis led Highlands with 20 digs to go with four aces, one assist and six kills. Seniors Madison Clore and Honor Valentine followed with 16 and 14 digs respectively. Clore also had three assists and two aces with Valentine recording one dig and one ace.

Senior Madison Opitz did most of the setting with junior Kenzi Vennefron also seeing action there. Opitz had 34 assists, six digs and four aces with Vennefron recording four assists, four digs and one ace.

"We definitely jelled more together as a team," Opitz said. "We talked amongst ourselves (Tuesday) telling ourselves to stay out of our heads. We have to just communicate through every singe play so we can talk about it, reflect and then move on straight to the next play."

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Tuesday Highlands Round-Up: Boys Soccer Wins Region Road Game

Volleyball Falls in Season Opener

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior setter Madison Opitz gets in position during the game against Conner on Tuesday.

The Highlands Bluebirds boys soccer team (2-1 overall) ventured on the road for the first time this season and came away with a 2-1 9th Region victory over the St. Henry Crusaders (1-2).

"I think we played with a lot of passion and were pretty energetic," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "We've been playing more physical. We defended pretty well. This is a game where we were lucky to come away with a 2-1 win. But we had enough chances to make it a four or five-goal game on our own. We have things to work on for sure."

Senior forward/midfielder Jordan Frisk led Highlands with three points scoring one goal and recording one assist. That marked the first goal and assist of the season for Frisk.

Junior midfielder Caden Schroeder scored the other goal for the Bluebirds and junior midfielder Peyton Helminiak had the other assist. Helminiak has two assists on the year and marked the first goal of the year for Schroeder.

Highlands had 18 shots with three on goal to seven shots with six on goal. Sophomore goalkeeper Jack Wilson had four saves and junior goalkeeper Connor Mathis had two for the Bluebirds.

Highlands had to adjust to playing on the grass field at St. Henry. Tower Park has been a turf field since 2012.

"We emphasized to the guys the need to overhit every ball," Niedert said. "Every 10-yard pass needed to be processed like a 15-yard pass. We just had to make sure we didn't give up on any ball. Some of these balls that we're used to going out on our field end up staying in-bounds."

The Bluebirds are still figuring some things out in the defensive backfield. Brothers Evan and Sam Jones, a junior and senior respectively, are two players seeing a lot of time back there.

"It's been nice growing up playing soccer with (Evan) and now next to each other in the back," Sam Jones said. "We have really good players who were on varsity last year like (seniors) Nick (Robinson) and Thomas (Gray-Torsell) then kids who were on JV last year like (junior) Luke (Fedders) and my brother. Also, (senior) Sawyer Tate joined us this year, too. We were ready to play against St. Henry. Coach Niedert at halftime of the Ballard game said, 'We're too nice.' We are nice kids. We need to not play dirty, but aggressive and hard. If the opposing striker gets the ball, make sure they know there's a defender there."

Highlands faces Louisville Collegiate (1-0) in the Northern Kentucky Soccer Showcase at Ryle on Saturday. Game time is 3 p.m.

Conner 3, Highlands 1:

The Lady Cougars came to Fort Thomas in the season opener for both teams and recorded a 25-23, 20-25, 25-22, 25-22 victory snapping a nine-game losing streak against the Bluebirds. Conner last beat Highlands, 2-0 (25-18, 25-13) in the Cake Classic championship on Aug. 27, 2016.

"I feel like for us, we can play against the big swings and the big blocks and we returned them quite a bit all game," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "I think it's just about getting into a serve-receive rhythm and being able to string runs together. It was a game of runs. As soon as one team opened the door and ran, it was tough to recover from that."

Highlands had 47 kills, 11 blocks including eight solo, three blocks, 47 assists, 72 digs and six aces. Senior Sophia Sarakatsannis had 10 kills and 20 digs with senior left-hander CC Shick recording 10 kills, five blocks with four solo and seven digs. Seniors Lauren Buemi and Nicole Ossege had eight kills each. Buemi had three aces and Ossege three digs.

Highlands played senior Madison Opitz and junior Kenzi Vennefron at setter. Opitz had 44 assists, three digs, one kill and one ace with Vennefron adding two assists and two digs.

The Bluebirds also saw contributions from senior Avery Cavacini and junior Emma Daly. Cavacini had six kills, two blocks with one solo and Daly had four kills and one assisted block.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Highlands Saturday Round-Up: Boys Soccer Grows in Loss

Boys Golf Places in Top Third in Tournament

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Jordan Frisk (13)
 gets in position in the game against Ballard on Saturday.

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The Highlands Bluebirds boys soccer team (1-1 overall) knew this game would be a measuring stick to where it stood against solid programs early in the season.

The Louisville Ballard Bruins (2-0) from the rugged 7th Region comprised of the likes of Louisville Collegiate, Trinity and St. Xavier came to town for a crucial non-region battle. The Bruins have yet to advance out of the current 7th Region. But they do have nine state championships in school history, which is second in Kentucky history behind St. Xavier's 15.

This is a game that may have been talked about for a long time if it occurred in the postseason by fans that attended the game. Ballard came away with a 3-1 win. But it did not come without some controversy.

"With where we're at right now, there is a ton of good that came from (Saturday)," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "Our energy looked significantly better. We were just a stronger team overall and I feel like we figured out a few things with regard to just intensity and the physicality that we need in order to be successful at the level. We have some guys who are very technically sound. I think (Saturday) was the first that we realized the importance of just being quicker in anticipating and doing some of those little things." 

Trailing 2-0 at halftime, Highlands senior Joel Kendall scored on a free kick with 38:20 left in the game to trim the margin to 2-1. Minutes later, the Bluebirds thought they tied the game on a scramble inside the Ballard box. The ball appeared to have gone completely over the line including reviews shown on replay before a Ballard defender cleared it. But the ones in charge did not rule it a goal.

With 27:04 left, Ballard senior Evan Brown put in a rebound to make the final score. Ballard outshot Highlands, 10-6 including 7-4 on goal. Highlands junior goalkeeper Connor Mathis made a dynamic save before the rebound.

The Bluebirds still had plenty of chances to tie the game. They had a 2-on-1 with 29:30 left in the game. But the shot from the left of the goal sailed high.

"We put guys in positions and try to make them make plays," Niedert said. "They capitalized on times we fell just a teeny bit short. We'll be better off because of this game for sure."

Brown scored twice to lead the Bruins with four points. Senior Sebastian Sanchez scored on a kick from the mark with 4:11 left in the first half to give the Bruins a 2-0 advantage.

Highlands plays St. Henry (1-1) in Erlanger on Tuesday. Game time is 7 p.m.

Golf, Boys:
Bluebirds Place Sixth in Mason County Invite:

Highlands tallied a 312 at Laurel Oaks Golf Club in Maysville.

Junior Joel Craft led the way shooting 74. Freshman Hank Shick and senior Jack Schneider followed closely with 76 and 77 respectively. Freshman Oliver Golden shot an 85 to round out the scoring with freshman Nate Surrey shooting 91.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Highlands Soccer Teams Open Season with Victories

Weather Forces Early Stoppage of Games

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. The Highlands soccer teams opened the season Thursday with wins.

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The hot day gave way to the night.

But shortly after the darkness overtook the sky, lightning came with it. Luckily for the Highlands Bluebirds soccer teams, they played the necessary half to make their games official and record 9th Region wins in their season openers. The Highlands boys defeated Beechwood, 1-0 at Tower Park and the Highlands girls took down Beechwood, 4-1 in Fort Mitchell. The Highlands girls played six minutes in the second half before officials called the game.

It marked the first game for the Highlands girls new Head Coach Chris Norris. Senior Hailey Parks played the entire game recording seven saves for the Bluebirds.

"I feel like the girls are starting to buy into the system a little bit now," Norris said. "In particular, they were getting the balls into the middle then making some connection passes off that and getting the balls to corners for crosses."

Senior defender Jade Rehberger worked with the likes of senior Hailey Barton, juniors Ruby Smith, Bianca Hemsath and freshman Kate Fausz in the defensive backfield. Barton said the team saw that it can improve on there.

"I think our defense did really well," Barton said. "We just need to work on communication a little bit better. I think the seniors are going to try to keep everyone in high spirits and trying to be a team so that we can work toward all of our big goals and even our individual goals."

Senior forward Chloe Bramble found sophomore Claire Cavacini for the first Highlands goal. The next two goals came off Rehberger corner kicks. Senior midfielder Faith Broering scored the first one and sophomore Ava Lawhorn scored the second one. Bramble scored the game's final goal off a Lawhorn assist.

Highlands does not play again until traveling to Louisville Assumption on Aug. 21. Game time is 11:30 a.m.

Highlands and Beechwood had four shots each in the boys game. But junior goalkeeper Connor Mathis saved all four for the Bluebirds.

"We weren't able to train (Wednesday) because of the heat. The heat has been an issue lately," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "There are just some things we're not sharp on. It could have been two or three-up. To be fair, Beechwood had some chances, too. Connor didn't have to make too many big saves. But when he was called on, he did his job. It wasn't a bad performance. I hope our guys leave knowing we didn't really show what we're capable of."

The game's lone goal came with 6:21 left in the first half. Junior forward Colin Piper scored it on an assist from junior midfielder Peyton Helminiak.

"It's good to get the first win. But we have a lot to improve on," said Joel Kendall, Highlands senior defender/midfielder. "We just need to keep working together getting used to each other and getting used to the formation so we mesh really well."

Monday, August 9, 2021

Saturday Highlands Golf Results

The Highlands Bluebirds boys golf team placed 15th out of 18 teams in the 58th Annual Kentucky Invitational Tournament on Saturday at Big Springs Country Club in Louisville.

Highlands shot a 322. The Christian Academy of Louisville won it shooting 283. Junior Joel Craft led the Bluebirds shooting a 77 on the par 72 course. Freshman Hank Shick and senior Jack Schneider followed shooting 80s with freshman Oliver Golden rounding out the scoring shooting an 85. Freshman Nate Surrey also participated shooting 88.

The Bluebirds play in the Frederick Douglass Invitational at Greenbrier Country Club in Lexington on Monday.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Thursday, Friday Highlands Golf Results

Highlands junior Joel Craft shot a one-under 70 in the Beechwood Invitational at Hickory Sticks Golf Club in California, Kentucky earning medalist honors after winning a one-hole playoff.

Highlands finished fifth as a team on the hilly course. Freshman Oliver Golden shot a career-best 84.

"(With) these first 15 tournaments, we're really just playing to get some experience, gain some confidence and get ready for the regional tournament at the end of the year," said Bert Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "(Craft) did a really good job keeping the ball in play and putted well."

Highlands then played in the Conner Invitational on Friday placing sixth with a 332 score. Freshman Nate Surrey shot a personal-best 81 to lead the way. Craft and freshman Hank Shick followed with 83s with senior Jack Schneider and freshman Oliver Golden shooting 85s.

Highlands participates in the Kentucky Invitational Tournament at Big Springs Country Club in Louisville on Saturday.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Wednesday Highlands Golf Results

Toole Wins Tournament

Twitter Photo. Highlands senior KJ Toole won her first tournament shooting a 75 in the Highlands Invitational on Thursday.

Highlands senior golfer KJ Toole won the Highlands Invitational at AJ Jolly Golf Course shooting a 75.

That marked Toole's first tournament win of the season. Freshman golfer Jenna Richey also shot a personal best 97. Cooper won the tournament with a 314 score.

Highlands plays in the Beechwood Invitational on Thursday at Hickory Sticks Golf Course. Game time is 1:30 p.m.

Golf, Boys:

Highlands placed eighth out of 22 teams in the OrthoCincy Highlands Invitational. Freshman Hank Shick shot a personal-best 75 to lead the Bluebirds and freshman Nate Surrey shot an 81. Freshman Oliver Golden shot a career-best 85.

Cooper senior Rylan Wotherspoon won the tournament shooting 67. Lexington Frederick Douglass won it with a 293 and Grant County finished runner-up with 298.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Tuesday Highlands Golf Results

The Highlands Bluebirds boys golf team placed ninth out of 17 teams in the Cooper Invitational at Boone Links Golf Course in Florence. Junior Joel Craft led the way tying for 11th.

Highlands plays host to its own OrthoCincy Highlands Invitational on Wednesday. Tee time is 7:30 a.m. at AJ Jolly Golf Course in Alexandria.

Toole Shoots in Top 10:

Highlands senior KJ Toole golfed in the Grant County Invitational at Eagle Creek Golf Course in Dry Ridge. She shot an 80 to place in the top 10 at the event.

Monday Highlands Golf Results

Highlands senior girls golfer KJ Toole opened up the season with a runner-up finish at the Cooper Invitational at Lassing Pointe in Union shooting a nine-over par 80.

Owen County's Lilly Bauman won the event shooting a 72. Highlands did not qualify for a team score in the event.

Highlands plays in the Grant County Invitational on Tuesday at Eagle Creek Golf Course in Dry Ridge. Tee time is 7:30 a.m.

Highlands Boys Compete in Model Invitational:

Highlands shot a team total of 329 to finish 10th out of 19 teams at the Model Invitational on Monday at the University Club at Arlington in Richmond.

Junior Joel Craft led the way shooting a 73 on the par 72 course. Freshman Hank Shick shot a personal-best 79. Freshmen Nate Surrey and Oliver Golden followed with scores of 88 and 89 to round out the scoring.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Highlands Boys Golf Opens in Two Tournaments

The Highlands Bluebirds boys golf team opened with two tournaments in three days.

Highlands started Friday finishing fourth in the Pendleton County Invitational at the Pendleton Hills Golf Course in Butler, which is the site of the 8th Region Tournament on Sept. 28. Freshman Hank Shick led the way shooting an 83 to place sixth.

Highlands then played in the Mason County/St. Patrick Invitational at the Maysville Country Club taking eighth out of 11 teams shooting a total of 336. Junior Joel Craft led the way shooting a 76. Three freshmen in Nate Surrey, Hank Shick and Oliver Golden rounded out the scoring at 85, 87 and 88 respectively.