By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
As we transition into the spring, I feel it’s time to reflect on the winter.
The season-ending defeats for the four basketball teams were difficult. But the players on the Highlands and Newport Central Catholic basketball teams can hopefully look back on the season one day and reflect on many good times.
The Highlands girls had a very successful season going 26-8 before losing in the 9th Region championship to Notre Dame. The 26 wins are the most since Jaime Walz-Richey became head coach in 2002. It also marked their first appearance in the title game since 2002.
The six seniors played great roles in leading Highlands back to that point and will be missed. They are Leah Schaefer, Jesse “Dirt” Daley, Emilie Parton, Ava Abner, Vanessa Fisse and Kelsey Clark.
Highlands can also reflect on its first District 36 crown since 2008. Schaefer let out a memorable scream after the Bluebirds pounded Newport to win that title.
The Bluebirds do return a good nucleus for next season. They return freshman starters Brianna Adler and Haley Coffey. Players like Tomi Blanton, Whitney Quillen, Alex Combs, McKenzie Leigh and Lydia Graves should be ready to contribute more once next winter comes around.
Highlands also did win the Conner Christmas Holiday Tournament. The Bluebirds downed Pleasure Ridge Park to capture the crown.
The NewCath boys put together a phenomenal season at 30-3. That included separate 12 and 18-game winning streaks.
The Thoroughbreds won another 36th District crown before falling to 9th Region champion and eventual state quarterfinalist Holmes in the first round of the region tournament. Holmes lost to eventual state champion Madison Central. NewCath also won the Ashland Invitational Tournament.
Even though the Kentucky High School Athletic Association may not recognize it, the Thoroughbreds are state champions in my book with the All “A” crown. This is a reason I wish the state would go to classes like every surrounding state does. But that is a topic for another time.
NewCath will return starters Drew McDonald, Jake Schulte and Zach Pangallo next year. The Thoroughbreds will still be tall with McDonald and Schulte at 6-foot-6-inches and 6-8. Ben Weyer will be seasoned at 6-4. If NewCath develops a stronger outside game, another great season could be in store.
NewCath does graduate Michael Bueter, Nick Seibert, Colin Dupont, Brennan Devoto and Jake Haas. But other players will be ready to step in.
The NewCath girls also had a good season finishing 20-10. That is pretty good for a young team and a young head coach in George Stoll. NewCath finished All “A” runner-up to Owensboro Catholic. They lost to Highlands in the district semifinals as a result of the blind draw.
Like their male counterparts, they also need to shoot better from outside. But players like Stephanie Lewis, Ansley Davenport and Michaela Ware have shown they can do it. That will free things up down low for Nikki Kiernan and Alexus Mayes.
NewCath graduates just one senior in Jillian Hoover. She unfortunately played just once because of an Anterior Cruciated Ligament injury.
The Highlands boys improved from the previous year at 12-16. But the Bluebirds were playing their best basketball of the season at the end and gave a great effort in the district semifinal loss to NewCath.
Gone are four seniors in Luke Turner, Bailey Witte, Karl Hinkel and Jake Gronotte. On Monday, head coach Mike Flynn also announced he will not be back after four seasons.
The new head coach will have some talent to work with. The Bluebirds return Nick True and Drew Houliston along with promising players like Parker Harris and Jensen Feggins.