By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Entering the preseason, the Highlands girls and Newport Central Catholic boys basketball teams expected to be 9th Region contenders.
The Newport Central Catholic girls hoped to surprise many people after graduating several key performers from last year’s 36th District championship team and the Highlands boys hoped to improve on last year’s 10-win campaign. Both are three wins away from matching last year’s win totals.
The Highlands girls have won five in a row to improve to 16-6 overall and 9-2 in 9th Region play. Senior Twin Towers Leah Schaefer and Jesse Daley expected to put up big numbers and have not disappointed. Schaefer, a Xavier signee, averages 10.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game and Daley, a Thomas More signee, averages 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds a contest.
But Daley and Schaefer have not had to carry the team. The Bluebirds have shown a lot of balance this year. Freshman Brianna Adler has shot lights out lately averaging 9.6 points a game. She leads the team with 35 three-pointers made for an average of 1.6 a contest. Vanessa Fisse, Haley Coffey, Ava Abner, Emilie Parton, McKenzie Leigh, Alex Combs and Lydia Graves have all contributed this year. Highlands won 17 games last year.
The key for Highlands is consistency. The Bluebirds rallied for their two recent wins at Conner and Covington Holy Cross. But falling behind by double-digits against teams like NewCath and Notre Dame could hurt them in the 9th Region tournament.
The NewCath boys have been rolling all season. The 18-2 Thoroughbreds won their first 12 games before losing consecutive games to Louisville Trinity and Covington Catholic. They enter tonight’s All “A” State Tournament as favorites to win it.
The size in the middle has helped NewCath. Drew McDonald, Jake Schulte and Nick Seibert along with Ben Weyer have given opponents fits all season. Then Michael Buter, Brennan Devoto, Colin Dupont and Zach Pangallo hit from the outside to make things really difficult for opponents.
After the All “A” Tournament, the biggest games left on the schedule are Feb. 1 at Bishop Brossart and Feb. 8 at Covington Holmes. Holmes is still undefeated at 21-0.
The NewCath girls are 16-4. Nikki Kiernan has had a monster season as expected. She’s averaging 19.2 points and 10 rebounds a game. Alexus Mayes is behind her averaging 10.7 a contest. Stephanie Lewis and Loren Zimmerman have had great games to help take the pressure off Kiernan.
But the team needs to do a better job shooting from the outside and with free throws to contend for an All “A” state crown and 9th Region title. The Thoroughbreds are averaging 30 percent (71-of-240) from three-point range and 63 percent (254-of-402) from the free-throw line.
The Highlands boys have been struggling lately at 7-12. They’ve lost six of their last seven games. Confidence is the main reason behind that.
Highlands struggles against size and solid defenses. The Bluebirds fall behind big before getting things going in fourth quarters. Drew Houliston and Luke Turner average double-figures in points for Highlands.