|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands freshman Haley Dougherty (right) battles for position in the 36th District championship game Thursday.|
But the only difference in this 2-1 Newport Central Catholic Lady Bred victory over the Highlands Ladybirds is all the scoring came in the first half instead of the second. This one also meant a 36th District championship for the Lady Breds.
For just the second time since 2005, Highlands (14-8) did not bring home a district championship. Unlike previous years, NewCath (21-1) continues to play well after winning the All "A" State soccer championship. The lone loss for the Lady Breds came 2-0 on Oct. 5 to the four-time defending region champion Notre Dame Pandas (15-5).
The only other time NewCath won the district championship since 2005 when the Lady Breds beat the Ladybirds in the old 19th District championship game before Highlands won its first of consecutive state championships came in 2012. In the past two years, Highlands won the district championship after losing to NewCath in the regular season.
"We played a very, very good Highlands team and came out with a win," said Kevin Turnick, NewCath Head Coach. "It's huge because it kind of puts you in the driver's seat in the region tournament. We've had teams that have won the All "A" then have kind of went on cruise control and didn't do very well come postseason time so we've been stressing this team is better and can do some good things in the district and regional tournament. We just have to keep making them stay focused."
Highlands again outshot NewCath, 22-10 including 14-10 on goal. The Ladybirds controlled the ball at midfield setting up a number of shots. But many of the shots went right to NewCath goalkeeper Meg Martin if they did not go high or wide. Martin made nine saves and NewCath cleared a number of balls in the box as well.
"It got a lot better as the season progressed," said Brian Wiefering, Highlands Head Coach. "They chose a bad night to go back to their old way of not finishing. They do all the hard things."
Highlands also had one more opportunity from the corner. The Ladybirds had four corner kicks to three for the Lady Breds.
NewCath scored quickly as junior forward and 36th District Tournament Most Valuable Player Taylor Tolle took the ball up the left side and crossed one to sophomore Jenna Ahlbrand for her 10th goal of the season just 1:19 into the game. Tolle leads NewCath with 29 goals and 11 assists on the year.
"It was a defensive breakdown," Wiefering said. "We just let Jenna Ahlbrand run down the middle and had no one near her. I'll have to watch the film to figure out what happened there because had four defenders standing and no one marking. I don't know if it was a miscommunication or what."
But the Ladybirds tied it with 30:25 left in the half. Freshman Lindsey Meyer continued her sensational season scoring just inside the box.
The game stayed tied until the 19:49 mark when Kara Zimmerman scored. She also scored the game-winner in the regular season.
Highlands had a few situations where players broke free and had a clear shot at the net. But the Ladybirds could not put one in.
Highlands had 11 fouls to seven for NewCath. But the only yellow card or the game came on Highlands.
Highlands will have to hit the road for the 9th Region quarterfinals. The Ladybirds will travel to a district winner.
Highlands 3, Covington Holy Cross 1:
The Ladybirds concluded the regular season with a 25-19, 19-25, 25-15, 25-19 win on the road. They enter the postseason 16-17 overall and on a three-game winning streak.
Lauren Epperson again led Highlands with 15 kills, 14 digs and 23 assists and Malorie Hegge had 11 kills. Isabella Schultz and Anna Marie Houliston had four aces each for the Ladybirds.
Highlands takes on Bellevue in the 36th District Tournament at Dayton on Tuesday. Game time is 6 p.m.