Thursday, December 18, 2014

Trust in each other, coaches leads to 5-0 start for Ladybirds

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highland junior McKenzie Leigh (31) battles for a rebound in a recent win against Dayton while Brianna Adler (right) gets in position. The Ladybirds are beating opponents by an average of 29.4 points in their 5-0 start to the season.
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

It’s a trait that makes teams successful.

The Highlands Ladybirds basketball team has it right now and it has led to a fun time on the court in its 5-0 start to the season. That trait is a strong family atmosphere.

That trust starts at the top with veteran Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey and her assistants. Richey, the state’s all-time leading career scorer with 4,948 points, owns a record of 230-133 since becoming the head coach in 2002.

“This group of girls loves to have fun on and off the court,” said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. “They have sleepovers all the time. They come to us about basketball questions. (It’s) not only basketball, but off-the-court things. It could be school or family. Basketball is only going to be here for so long for some of them. We want them to know they can always come back in college if they have questions.”

Highlands has beaten its first five opponents by an average of 29.4 points outscoring them, 339-192. This includes a 67-39 win over South Oldham on Saturday.

The Ladybirds returned all five starters from last year’s regional semifinalist squad. The only senior to graduate was back-up guard Tomi Blanton. The five returning starters are seniors Lydia Graves, Alex Combs and juniors Brianna Adler, Haley Coffey and McKenzie Leigh.

All five starters plus eighth-grader Zoie Barth are averaging at least 8.2 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. Barth leads the way averaging 12 points and Combs averages a team-high 5.4 rebounds. Highlands has 152 rebounds on the season.

Highlands goes seven deep currently. Sophomore Kirsten Clukey has also given Highlands some solid minutes off the bench.

“We have seven good players that are all threats,” Barth said. “Teams can’t just stop one or two players because everyone can step up and score. That really helps us.”

The Ladybirds have shot the ball well early making 108-of-254 shots for 43 percent. That includes 33-of-99 shots from three-point range for 33 percent.

Highlands has also made its free throws. The Ladybirds have shot 68 percent from the field hitting 90-of-132 attempts for 68 percent.

The Ladybird defense has been solid. They’ve scored a number of points off solid full and half-court traps.

The one thing Highlands wants to develop is depth. Up big entering the fourth quarter against South Oldham, a number of reserves saw playing time including seniors Whitney Quillen and Kristyn Lukjan.

“We have to get further down not only for this year, but next year,” Richey said. “We lose two starters and two girls off the bench so we have to develop those other girls for next year.”

Highlands travels to Campbell County (4-2) on Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

College choices made:

Combs recently signed to play for West Virginia Tech, a National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics school in Montgomery (West Virgina).

“When you make a college choice, even when it’s not to play basketball but being a student, it’s a big relief,” Richey said. “I think Alex is relieved she got it out of the way. She knows where she’s going and doesn’t have to think about it. Once Lydia figures out where she’s going, that’ll be a big relief too. That’s what’s hanging over you your senior year.”

Combs said a big decision to go there is she wanted to major in Engineering. The school is located not far from the West Virginia state capitol of Charleston.

“I just liked everything about it,” Combs said. “I loved the team and coaches. It’s a smaller campus. That’s what I was looking for.”

Combs wants to improve her ball handling before going there. She said the team runs a style similar to Highlands.

“They like to run the ball,” Combs said. “That’s my kind of style. I think I’ll get a lot of playing time there and fit in.”

Quillen has also made her college choice. She will play softball at nearby Thomas More College.

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