By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The last time the Highlands boys soccer team did not make it to the district tournament finals, a blessing happened the following year.
The 2007 team did not make it out of the district tournament. But the following year, Highlands finished state runner-up losing 7-2 to state power Louisville St. Xavier in the title game. That team finished 17-4-4.
Highlands followed up the next years with 19th District Championships and won the 10th Region title in 2010 before falling to Scott, 3-1 in the State Sectional Title game. They finished 11-8-1 losing 3-2 to Bishop Brossart in the District 19 Semifinals completing Matthew Winkler’s second season as head coach. Highlands is 25-15-4 in Winkler’s tenure.
“Some of the guys on the squad really don’t remember the run from 2008,” Winkler said. “But they may have brothers who have told them about that run so some of the characteristics it will take (to repeat that run) are strong team discipline and working together to play as a team. It really comes down to who is playing better soccer at any given time.”
The Bluebirds still own five district titles in the last seven years. Overall, the Bluebirds have 15 district titles, four regional titles including three since 2006, and two sub-sectional titles in 2008 and 2010 with the lone sectional title coming during that big 2008 campaign.
This team has the depth to get back to that point with 18 players. But Region 9 will be tough with Covington Catholic and Ryle being the favorites. Ryle finished state runner-up last year.
The Bluebirds generally employ a 4-4-2 (defenseman-midfielder-forward) attack. But that may change this year.
Highlands graduated nine seniors from last year including leading goal-scorers Tucker Beerman and Samson Lewis with 29 and 15 respectively. Senior Emerson Holladay is the leading returning point-scorer for Highlands with four goals and two assists.
Goalkeeper Jake Hiance also graduated. Junior Nathan Schutte and sophomore Nick Breslin are battling to take that spot.
The Bluebirds have six seniors on the roster led by forward Ethan Schmits. The other four seniors are Christian Austin, Franklin Graves, Michael Cirulli and Petr Carter.
“We’re just training hard out running every morning trying to get in as good a condition as we can for the season,” Schmits said. “We do team lunches and team dinners every now and then. We’ll go to the field (at Tower Park) to make sure it is getting ready for the season. We hang out and all get along."
The rest of the roster is juniors. They are Alex Shepherd, Andrew Barnes, Chris Garbig, Cole Davis-Roberts, Colin Dean, Jimmy Penrod, Jordan Jarvis, Jovid Llerena and Mitch Gesenhues.
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association placed Highlands in the new Region 9, District 36 similar to basketball with just Newport Central Catholic. The two will meet for seeding rights in October. Newport, Bellevue, and Dayton do not field teams. But old district rivals Bishop Brossart and Campbell County are still on the schedule in addition to region powers Covington Catholic, Ryle and state power St. Xavier.
“(The Kentucky High School Athletic Association) has that (realignment) job for a reason,” Winkler said. “We’re happy with where we’re at. Being in a two-team district is what it is. On the same vote, that’s why our schedule is pretty diverse. It helps us prepare for postseason play.”
Highlands opens the season Tuesday and will dedicate the new field at Tower Park in between the junior varsity and varsity contests. The Bluebirds face Covington Holmes around 8 p.m.