|G. Michael Graham|
Each year has many great memories.
This past basketball season provided its own great set of them. Both the Newport Central Catholic teams earned a number of championships and the Highlands teams showed they have great futures in different ways.
No one will soon forget Michaela Ware’s heroics in the 9th Region girls basketball title game as the Thoroughbreds edged defending champion Notre Dame, 48-46. The junior point guard took the ball in the back court with about nine seconds left in overtime, dribbled toward the basket off a nice pick from Alexus Mayes and scored with about a second left to lift NewCath to its fourth region crown since 2003.
Down at Bowling Green, the Thoroughbreds gave a valiant effort against eventual state champion Louisville Butler. In fact, no one came closer than NewCath’s 54-52 loss in the first round of the state tournament. That culminated an impressive 29-5 mark. It also included a fifth 36th District championship in six years in addition to an eighth straight All “A” 9th Region crown and Gateway Holiday Classic title at Montgomery County.
The Thoroughbreds will definitely miss senior post Nikki Kiernan. She finished her career with 1,869 points and 1,139 rebounds. She posted a double-double many nights and constantly drew plenty of attention in the paint. It will take a collective effort to replace her next season. Stephanie Lewis and Chelsea Schack also graduate for NewCath.
Ware will lead the Thoroughbreds next fall. Alexus Mayes and Ansley Davenport are the other two returning starters. But players like Sarah Neace in addition to Meg Martin and Taylor Tolle will need to pick up their games to keep the tradition on The Hill going.
Their male counterparts also finished with an impressive 29-4 record including 22 in a row. The Thoroughbreds again fell short of their main goal of winning their first 9th Region crown since 2000.
But they still have plenty to be proud of. The Thoroughbreds claimed their second straight All “A” State Tournament and their sixth straight 36th District title. NewCath also beat state powers Knott County Central, Cordia twice, Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park and Louisville Trinity.
It was hard to pick your poison with them each and every night. They started three players at 6-foot-5-inches and above in Ben Weyer, Drew McDonald and Jake Schulte. Then Grant Moeves, Tanner Moeves and Zack Pangallo could burn you from outside so teams could not double the posts easily.
Tanner Moeves and Schulte will play college basketball next year. Tanner Moves is going to nearby Thomas More and Schulte will play at South Carolin-Upstate in the Atlantic Sun with Northern Kentucky University. Reserves Mac Franzen, Josh Verkamp and Tyler Rawe also graduate.
But the Thoroughbreds will be right back in the thick of things. They will just need to figure out a rotation including a fifth starter. A list of candidates includes Jacob Smith, Brian Anderson and Eric Anderson.
Few people knew what to expect in Fort Thomas with both Highlands teams. The Ladybirds graduated six starters from the previous year’s 9th Region runner-up squad and the Bluebirds started over with first-year Head Coach Kevin Listerman.
The Ladybirds made it back to the region semifinals losing once again to Notre Dame. But they finished with a 23-8 mark and lose one senior in Tomi Blanton off that team. That showed their time is coming soon.
Highlands saw any of its five starters light it up on any given night. Sophomore McKenzie Leigh tore things up in the region tournament. But Alex Combs, Briana Adler, Haley Coffey and Lydia Graves all had their shining moments. Seventh-grader Zoie Barth and freshman Kiersten Clukey in addition to Blanton also provided big lifts off the bench. They sky is the limit for them if they stay as dedicated as they were this past offseason.
Highlands had plenty of big wins this year. The biggest one came on Jan. 3 at Newport Central Catholic, 45-40. The Ladybirds had not won there since 1999.
The Bluebirds did go through their struggles losing their first six games before finishing 9-15. But they found an identity toward the end of the season and it paid off with a huge 75-64 win over Newport in the 36th District semifinals good for their first trip to the 9th Region Tournament in two years.
Highlands graduates six seniors. But the Bluebirds do return two starters in Parker Harris and Mitch Cain. Harris scored in double-digits in all three Highlands postseason games.
That brings the offseason. This is where individuals develop and help build more memories come next season.
Note: Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter G. Michael Graham has covered high school sports in Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, Texas and Tennessee since 1993.