|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Lauren Ossege looks for room in a recent game. The Ladybirds beat Dixie Heights, 2-0 to advance to the 9th Region semifinals Wednesday.|
The Ladybirds used it to their advantage hustling all over the field the entire game. But they were not able to distance themselves from the 34th District champions Monday in a 2-0 victory until late in the game.
Highlands (15-8 overall) has not won this many games in a season since winning 18 in 2008 and finishing state runner-up. The Ladybirds won 14 games the last time they won a region crown in 2010.
"It is gratifying. You hear from some other teams where the culture isn't great," said Brian Wiefering, Highlands Head Coach. "I think our culture is fantastic. You have 23 girls who think they should be starting and on the field. That's tough. But at the same time, that's great because when you put someone on the field who wants to be there, they're going to play like they're a starter."
Highlands moves on to the 9th Region semifinals for the third straight year. The Ladybirds will face arch-rival Notre Dame (17-5) on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at St. Henry. Highlands beat Notre Dame, 3-1 on Sept. 26 in Park Hills.
Newport Central Catholic (22-1) takes on Boone County (16-6-2) in the other semifinal at 7:15 p.m. The title game takes place Friday at 7 p.m. back at St. Henry.
Notre Dame has eliminated Highlands three of the past four seasons on its way to two state championships, a state runner-up finish and a state semifinal appearance. The Pandas beat the Ladybirds in the 9th Region semifinals last year and in the title game in 2013 by identical 3-0 scores.
The quickness showed in the shot totals. Highlands outshot Dixie Heights (8-9-2), 19-5 including 13-4 on goal winning a lot of the 50/50 balls. The Ladybirds also had five corner kicks to two for the Lady Colonels.
"Even if you look at our losses, we probably win on possession, the number of shots, number of shots on goal and corners," Wiefering said. "It's up to them to stay organized on defense and not give up a goal that should not have been given up and it's up to them to finish off wide-open shots."
Defensively, Highlands keyed on senior forward Jenna Wolf. The Lady Colonels had a free kick to the right of the 18-foot box in the second half, but the shot sailed high. The defenders did a good job booting the ball back to other defenders or the goalkeepers if they were not in a good position to boot the ball forward.
"I played with Jenna Wolf in club and she's always been really good so you have to watch out for her," said Hayley Crothers, Highlands senior defender. "The goalkeepers do a really good job communicating with the defense telling us when to drop it or when to clear it."
The Ladybirds scored their first goal with 34:28 left in the first half. Freshman forward Lindsey Meyer took the ball on the left side and crossed the ball to Kylie Stava for the score. Highlands led 1-0 at halftime.
Meyer had a wide-open shot in the first half. But the shot went right to goalkeeper Ellis McCarthy. McCarthy made 11 saves for the Lady Colonels.
Shannon Eaton again played the first half and Olivia McQueary the second at goalkeeper for the Ladybirds. Eaton made one save and McQueary had three.
But McQueary made two huge saves on one play with 28:44 left in the game. Dixie Heights drew a penalty in the 18-foot box and senior Madi Critcher took the kick. Critcher shot it to the left and McQueary dove to her right to boot it away. McQueary then slid to her left to make a save on the rebound to preserve the Highlands lead.
"I don't really know what happens on penalty kicks," McQueary said. "I kind of just wing it. It's not something I really think about too much. It's kind of spur of the moment kind of thing. I rely on my reaction time and the skills I've have."
Meyer had another excellent attempt with 22:18 left. She took one off her back foot. But McCarthy made another save.
"It's obvious that teams are starting to focus on certain girls like Lindsey (Meyer), (Kiersten) Clukey and Sydney Ossege," Wiefering said. "That's what we told them at films the other night. It's going to have to come from other girls."
The Ladybirds put another one in with 8:03 left in the game. Freshman Haley Dougherty put in a rebound.
"It was actually not that tight after I saw that rebound off (McCarthy)," Dougherty said. "I had room to just touch it and hit it in. She's a really good goalkeeper."
Highlands also beat Dixie Heights in the regular season, 2-1 on Sept. 28 at Tower Park. The Lady Colonels edged the Ladybirds, 2-1 on penalty kicks in the region quarterfinals in 2012 at Ryle.