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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Girls Soccer Preview: Highlands aiming to restore family atmosphere

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Ellie Farley (2) makes a move against Dixie Heights in a game last year. Farley is one of six seniors returning this season.
It may not be fair to compare.

But when it comes to the Highlands Ladybirds soccer program, many think of the likes of past great players like Sydney Hiance, Caitlin Beck, Leslie Twehues, Alicia Browning-Gesenhues, Kara Dickerson-O'Hearn, Megan Leahy, Amber Barth-Wells and Mallory Adler. Those greats among others helped the program on its impressive run of 80-11-11 between the 2005 and 2008 seasons. Highlands captured back-to-back state championships in 2005 and 2006 and a state runner-up crown in 2008 during that time.

While the current players can't be them, they've been trying to restore the tradition and took a huge step in doing that last season. The Ladybirds finished 12-9-1, captured their eighth district championship in nine seasons before losing 3-0 to Notre Dame in the 9th Region semifinals in Brian Wiefering's first season as head coach. Notre Dame lost in the state semifinals, 1-0 to eventual state champion South Oldham after winning its fourth straight region title.

The double-digit win season marked the first for Highlands since its last region crown in 2010. The return of many key players from that team helps narrow the gap if not catch the rival Pandas. Highlands has gone 1-8 against Notre Dame since that last region crown including two losses last season. Notre Dame owns state championships in 2011 and 2013 during that time.

Gone from last year are five seniors in forward Taylor Vaughn, defender Peyton Bankemper, Allyson Bridewell, Lydia Graves and Brooke Dougherty. Bridewell took her talents to Eastern Kentucky University and Vaughn signed with Wittenberg University. Graves will play basketball down the road at Georgetown College. Vaughn led Highlands in scoring last year with 13 goals and six assists.

In addition, Hannah Culyer and Kamryn Balson decided not to return for their senior years. Culyer finished second on the team with six goals last year.

"We built upon last year," Wiefering said. "I think their tactical knowledge of the game is right now maybe where it was midway through last year, which is awesome. It's going to take some of these younger girls to step up with the confidence. It will take these older girls to allow these younger girls to step up and play with confidence."

The players on the 2005 and 2006 state championship teams said everyone was a family. Wiefering said he's been trying to restore that type of atmosphere.

"It's something we did preach a lot last year and we met some resistance," Wiefering said. "But it did get a lot better toward the end of the year and I think our record kind of reflected that. The girls did get a lot closer. In fact, we had a two-hour intense meeting with all 58 girls and that's what we talked about - how to be a leader, how to be a family on the field, off the field."

Junior forward/midfielder Kayla Nehus has an older sister in Allie Nehus-Hanson who started at defender on the 2005 state championship team. Nehus said she's had talks with Hanson about that team. This year happens to mark the 10th anniversary of that championship.

"They were all like sisters," Nehus said. "They joined together in everything they did. It wasn't just one person's goal. It was everyone as a whole. They all worked to that goal and made it happen."

Nehus scored five goals and had five assists last year. She's the leading returning goal-scorer from last year along with senior midfielder Kylie Schuermann.

Schuermann is one of the six returning seniors. The others are defenders Megan Reynolds, Hayley Crothers, forward/midfielder Ellie Farley, midfielder Lauren Ossege and center midfielder Madalyn Wiefering. Farley said they realize where the leadership begins.

"Instead of a power struggle and having the seniors significantly overpowering the younger players, we're being leaders ourselves," Farley said. "We're having everyone think like they're a part of the team so it's not like the seniors are on their own."

Coach Wiefering said he's confident about putting 14 or 15 players on the field on the varsity level. But that could change daily. Two freshmen could see a lot of time in forwards Haley Dougherty and Lindsey Meyer.

"I worried how the juniors and seniors would react to that," Coach Wiefering said. "So far, they've been very, very welcoming to these two. I want 11 confident players on the field. I don't want scared freshmen on the field. I don't want upperclassmen who are frustrated they're not getting the playing time they want."

Both goalkeepers in junior Shannon Eaton and sophomore Olivia McQueary return from last year. They split halves last year, but that may not be the case this year. Coach Wiefering said he felt their skills were even last year.

Highlands finished the season 9-2-1 after starting 3-7. The Ladybirds recorded 10 shutouts outscoring opponents 42-30. Defenders like Annalee Brewer, Annie Schneider and sophomore Sophie Steppe played a huge role in that defense along with junior center midfielder Kiersten Clukey and junior defender/midfielder Claudia Hils.

Coach Wiefering said Highlands has been working on three formations. The strategy will depend on the personnel and opponent.

"We've worked a lot so far in the preseason on still pressuring the ball hard and not letting that free-flowing game from the other team take place, but being more organized on defense including our defensive mids," Coach Wiefering said. "That's not going to be much different from last year. I felt like last year, our back four didn't do bad looking at films. I think it was our mids getting out of position and leaving that middle open."

Coach Wiefering also said he wants to see the forwards come back to clear the ball. He said that could be a big difference in the win and loss column this season.

Seven other players hope to give Highlands depth this season. They are juniors Karolyn Lukjan at defender, Sydney Ossege (midfielder/forward) and sophomores Lily Lorenz (defender/midfielder), Kaitlyn Meyer (midfielder), Kylie Stave (forward/midfielder), Isabella Thomas (defender) and Molly Wiefering (center midfielder).

Highlands opens the season on Aug. 27 against Cincinnati Anderson. Game time is 7:30 p.m.


  1. Parent-coaches at this level are a horrible idea, for a multitude of reasons. Are seniors "welcoming" to the idea of younger players eating minutes if it's all a literal "family"? The situation is ripe for resentment. Good luck Lady Bluebirds!

  2. Could not have said it any better than the previous poster. There is a family atmosphere for sure when you have 4 dad coaches with 7 kids in the program. Do not understand why a high school that is going to have close to 1,000 kids this year has to have middle schoolers playing JV soccer. Good luck girls, you are going to need it.

  3. Wow! Came on here to read a girls soccer preview and instead I get to read a bitchfest. Nice to see your support of the program. Just because there are close to 1000 students enrolled doesn't mean that you should have 80 girls trying out for the soccer program. If there were girls who didn't try out then wouldn't that decision fall on them? I don't believe the coach or coaches told these girls to not try out. If assumptions were made about playing time, not making the team or whatever the reasoning that still falls on the feelings of the young ladies who made the choice not to tryout. I hope the girls on the team don't read these comments. You should be ashamed of yourself. Good luck Lady Birds prove the naysayers wrong!

  4. Could we get a schedule and a roster for the varsity, frosh and middle school teams?

  5. Everyone is focused on the "Parent-Coaches". I don't believe you would find too many schools in NKY that have at least 3 licensed coaches on their staff (Meaning "E" and higher). I know it is not required by the KHSAA to have a licensed coach but for the life of me I don't understand why. I did not know that the 'had" to have middle school girls playing JV. Did you ever think that they might have earned it? I don't see why they would need any luck, those young girls proved themselves last year. Here is to you finding some sort of soccer peace in your life, your support will not be missed.

    1. Hold on a minute. Are you suggesting that I can't support the teams because I am against parent-coaching at the middle- and high-school level? Why? A parent-coach situation inherently undermines the concept of "earning" anything. No one took any personal shots at the coaches, or their motives, but if the district wants to offer sports programs (that we all support with sweat and taxes) then the community should expect at least the appearance of a meritocracy. And I will keep supporting our kids, whether you would miss me or not!

      Parent-coaching at this level is really bush league and a policy should be implemented to stop it.

    2. Here, here. Another well stated response. Seems to me like a nerve was struck with the issue of parent-coaches. Not sure why unless it is from a guilty conscious.

    3. Guilty conscious?? What would I have to be guilty of? I have been a parent coach in the past but not in high school only at the club level. Dont see any problem with a parent coach. You act like they wouldn't be held to a higher standard when it comes to playing time or who is on the team. I didn't see the coaches kids getting playing time over anybody else that was on the same level, if anything they played less. Your statement about girls needing luck was just ridiculous. I am sure one of you lives close enough to watch all the home games just by walking up the street. The other probably was looking like a fool most the time last year. You guys really need to move on with your lives.

  6. Brian is a good guy with all the kids interest in mind but with that said his soccer background in coaching came from only coaching is daughter's team.

    I also don't think it is a good idea for a coach to be coaching his own daughters in High School especially in a situation like Highlands where sports is very competitive.

    I think Highlands could have found a more experienced coach and left him as the JV coach......would have created less issues.

    I know people will say he had success but Highlands will always have some high level of success regardless of the coach because of the funnel of good players coming through who will always be playing at a high club level.

  7. Best coaching situation in the world... coaching at an orphanage. No parent coaches and no parents to complain about the program.