|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Nick Kendall (12) goes up for a shot in a recent game. Kendall is one of three starters to return next year for the Bluebirds.|
The Highlands Bluebirds basketball team finished the injury-riddled campaign with that record with a 67-28 loss to the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds on Wednesday at Newport. Highlands went 9-15 last year finishing as 36th District runner-up before losing to Covington Holmes in the 9th Region quarterfinals. That’s a total of 17-32 since Head Coach Kevin Listerman took over in 2013.
But Listerman knew it would take time to turn the program around when he took over. The Bluebirds have not won a district tournament since 2008 and have not won a region game since 2009.
“You refine, learn and adjust,” Listerman said. “The biggest thing is we have to grow in the offseason. We can’t be one year older next year. We need to be one year better.”
Highlands did see some bright spots this past season. The Bluebirds won four games in a row in January.
The rebuilding process continued with the three Highlands seniors in Parker Harris, Justin Weyer and Kenny Ball. Harris averaged 14.1 points per game and Ball averaged 8.3. Ball led the team in three-pointers made.
“The seniors have planted some seeds,” Listerman said. “They’re not going to be here when those seeds grow and bear fruit. I’m proud of how they competed. They’ve shown tremendous leadership of how to do things the right way. Our younger kids have done a great job of buying in. The success will come eventually.”
Harris will continue to play golf in college for Army. Weyer also helped the Highlands football team win its 23rd state championship in December and Ball will play for the Bluebird baseball team this spring.
The Bluebirds did have some players leave the program throughout the season. But this group of seniors set a good example by not doing that.
“We stuck with the process,” Harris said. “Obviously, the record and season didn’t pan out the way we wanted it to. For the seniors, I can’t thank them enough. The guys behind us stuck with it. That alone is going to show kids in the future that you have to stick with things. They’ll get it down the road.”
The younger Highlands squads had plenty of success. The junior varsity won 5-of-6 at the end of the season and the freshmen lost in the region title game. The middle school teams also had great seasons with the sixth grade going undefeated and winning the region.
But any successful program starts and stops with the community and the players buying in to the coaching philosophies. The community backing is what attracted Listerman to the program.
“When you have quality people in place and you have the support we have in Fort Thomas, success will come,” Listerman said. “(The younger players) have to have fun playing basketball. That’s what I’m about. I think they enjoy playing for us and with their friends.”
Highlands returns a good starting point in junior starters Mitch Cain, Nick Kendall and Bo Hebel next year. The Bluebirds saw good things from players like sophomore Bryce Traylor and freshman Braden Posey at the end of the year.