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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Highlands Wins One for Injured Teammates

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, The Highlands Bluebirds claimed their state-record 23rd state championship Saturday at Western Kentucky University. They rallied past Owensboro for the 49-42 win.
PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich gives hugs after winning the state championship Saturday. Weinrich took over the vaunted Bluebird program in January, 2014 after serving as an assistant the previous 19 years. 

BOWLING GREEN – After the 49-35 loss to Cincinnati Elder on Oct. 24, Bluebird senior quarterback Beau Hoge made a promise to pal and Highlands senior cornerback Andrew “The Cowboy” Abner.

“(Hoge) said this one is for you,” Abner said. “We’re going to work our tails off to get onto this field (Saturday) and to win the game. It’s easily the best feeling I’ve had in my life. It’s an accomplishment.”

They did just that Saturday when they rallied past Owensboro, 49-42. That marked the Bluebirds’ seventh state championship in eight seasons.

Abner had just been lost for the season to a torn Anterior Cruciated Ligament. Teammate and fellow senior Josh Watson also went down with the same injury that day and tight end Jack Telek suffered the same fate in a preseason scrimmage against Louisville Trinity.

Highlands senior offensive lineman Kyler Dalton also did not see much action this year because of injuries. He was the lone returning offensive lineman with any varsity experience entering the season. Running backs like James Grau also battled injuries this year.

While many teams crumble in situations like this, Highlands rises to the occasion. Anyone associated with the program would tell you it is a family atmosphere within the Bluebird program.

“They guys do whatever is asked of them,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “They’ve been so unselfish all year. It didn’t matter whose number was getting called. They blocked for each other. They pick each other up if one makes a mistake. You can’t give those guys enough credit.”

The injured players made the trip. Some players do not have much to do with the team anymore after a season-ending injury. Watson was glad he stuck around.

“We (injured players) couldn’t do anything to win this game,” Watson said. “We should have come out harder, but we didn’t. All that matters is we won the game.”

Highlands rallying together may remind some of the 2005 Highlands Ladybird state championship girls soccer team that finished 24-2. Highlands knocked off Lexington Catholic, 1-0 on penalty kicks in the title game that year. Megan Leahy, Caitlin Beck, Natalie Turner and Sydney Hiance hit their kicks before Lexington Catholic missed and Rachel Redmond hit the game-winner.

The team rallied around then-senior Karly Hassman, who also tore her left ACL in a 3-1 win over Dixie Heights on Sept. 16, 2005. That injury happened before Highlands installed artificial turf in 2012.

“It was huge. I already had surgery at that point,” Hassman said when Redmond hit the game-winner. “But I felt like I was running again. It was definitely an adrenaline boost. I remember when we went into a shootout how (Head Coach) Nina (Kearns) asked if I was ready to get in there. Of course, that wasn’t likely. She still felt like I was part of the team.”

Still tied for most titles in school history:

The Bluebirds are still tied for the most state championships in Kentucky history with 23. Louisville Trinity beat Dixie Heights, 47-14 to claim the 6A crown and its 23rd title in school history.

Christopher Columbus to play for title:

The Christopher Columbus Explorers (13-1) will play for the Florida Class 8A state championship after winning Friday. They beat Flanagan, 16-12 in the state’s largest class semifinals.

Christopher Columbus handed Highlands one of its two losses during the regular season, 38-34 on Oct. 11 in Fort Thomas. The other came to another non-Kentucky team in Cincinnati Elder, 49-35 on Oct. 24.

A crown for the cheerleaders:

The Highlands cheerleading squad recently claimed the Region 9 Small Varsity championship on Nov. 22 at Cooper. Highlands came in second for years. Their head coach is Carly Thompson-Leopold.

“They learned the routine in August and they have been working since then on improving the skills and working on the skills to learn it,” Leopold said. “They work hard for 2.5 minutes and that’s all they get.”

Many perceive cheerleading is all about precision on the routines. But Leopold said that varies.

“It really depends on your difficulty,” Leopold said. “The more difficult it is, the more leniency you have if something were to go wrong. That was what was in our favor to win. We had a few stunts that did drop.”

Another individual honor for Mueller:

Longtime Highlands Head Coach Dale Mueller won another honor recently. Mueller and former Beechwood Head Football Coach Mike Yeagle received a recent induction into the Northern Kentucky Athletic Directors Hall of Fame.

Mueller coached the Bluebirds from 1994 until last year. He is still serving as the Highlands Director of Athletics until the end of the academic school year then will retire. The Bluebirds finished 250-36 during that time with 11 state championships and three runner-up finishes.

Farewell to the seniors:

The Bluebirds bid farewell to 26 seniors. They are Watson, Abner, Hoge, Telek, Dalton, Grau, Lou Bunning, James Hinkel, Kyle Martin, Justin Weyer, Alex Veneman, Rocco Pangallo, Brady Murray, Griffin Urlage, Daniel Kremer, Jacob Noe, Grayson Heck, Patrick Schoepf, DJ Mills, Ben Ellison, John Abner, Manny Venegas, Matt Gall, Matt Bowman, Phillip Arce and Cashel Coughlan.

That class won three state championships in four years of high school. They made up for the 37-34 loss to Collins in the title game last year. Highlands has seven titles in the last eight seasons.

Past Highlands teams honored:

The 1964 and 1989 state championship Highlands teams were honored at halftime. Among those in attendance were Dan Mueller, a junior on the 1964 team and older brother of Dale Mueller and Head coach Owen Hauck. Weinrich played on the 1989 state championship team that beat Paducah Tilghman, 7-3.

Outlook for next year:

This next offseason could be one of the biggest in Highlands history.

Not only will the Bluebirds move up to Class 5A with Covington Catholic, they could face a tougher road back to Bowling Green. They will be in the same district with CovCath, Dixie Heights and Grant County next season.

Highlands needs some players to step forward from the junior varsity and freshmen squads. The Bluebird junior varsity finished 1-5 with the lone win coming against Covington Catholic. The freshmen finished 3-5 beating Simon Kenton, Boone County and Cooper.

Next year’s team will have an advantage in the new field house. It is expected to be finished early in 2015.

The Bluebirds may have to get by defending 5A champion Pulaski County in the state semifinals. The Bowling Green Purples and Graves County Eagles could be the main threat in the title game.

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