|Bluebirds hope to surprise teams with depth|
|PHOTO:Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior guard Chandler New splits the defense in a game last year. New is one of six seniors on the team this year.|
But third-year Highlands Bluebirds basketball Head Coach Kevin Listerman has something big in common with former Head Coach Ken Shields. They are two Covington Catholic graduates brought in attempting to bring glory to a struggling program.
Listerman believes in similar principles that Shields did in terms of treating people the right way. As a result, Listerman hopes results will come from it. Shields guided the Bluebirds from 1975 to 1988 before taking the job at Northern Kentucky University. Highlands won five 9th Region crowns during that time.
Shields' grandson in guard Chandler New is one of six seniors on the team. New saw action last year.
"Growing up watching my grandfather's games, I am old enough to remember some of them luckily," New said. "They're both very intense and they both love to win. They'll do whatever it takes to win and they both care about their players very much. It's always nice to have in a coach because you know you can count on them for anything and they're not going to leave you out to dry."
Highlands showed progress in Listerman's first two seasons despite the record. The Bluebirds went 17-32 those first two years making the 9th Region Tournament in 2014.
But injuries hurt Highlands last year in an 8-17 campaign that saw the season end in a 67-28 loss to Newport Central Catholic in the 36th District semifinals. The Bluebirds went 1-3 in district play to take the fourth seed in the district tournament.
Highlands graduated three seniors off that team in Parker Harris, Kenny Ball and Justin Weyer. Harris led the Bluebirds averaging 13.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Highlands plays just 23 games this year. That is seven shy of the state-allowed full schedule. But the Bluebirds have a few weeks practicing before the first game on Dec. 19 against Bishop Brossart. Many of the players also play football and the Bluebird football team played for state championships into the first weekend of December the previous two years. That left Highlands with just a few days practicing with a full team before the first game.
"It's really a matter of trying to have a preseason," Listerman said. "It's not fair to the kids to ask them to come out in four days and play teams that have been practicing for six weeks and try to play catch-up. The mental toll that that takes to open the season 0-5, 0-6 or 0-7 is really because you haven't had a lot of time to practice. We hope that will pay dividends."
But Highlands could have its deepest team since Listerman took over in 2013 starting with the six seniors. They are center Bo Hebel, guards Nick Kendall, Mitch Cain, Jordan Johnson and forward Jared Dougherty. Listerman likes to play a full-court pressing up-tempo game and man-to-man defense.
"The biggest thing is expectations and what it takes to be successful," Listerman said. "This group of seniors has been around so a lot of the terminology and those type of things is really solid. I guess I'm most impressed with the chemistry of the group. We have a good group of guys who are close with each other and want to play with each other. That was probably the biggest thing that came out of the summer and off-season."
The Bluebirds had a lot of size mismatches in the paint two years ago, but Hebel helped negate some of that last year. Junior posts Kyle Finfrock and Luke LaFrange hope to make their marks down low as well. LaFrange rebounding will be a key against players like Newport Central Catholic post Ben Weyer.
"We're going to have to box out and make sure we put a body on (opposing posts)," LaFrange said. "We also need to have our hands up and be ready to rebound to eliminate the big guys and let our guards come in and swoop it out."
Junior Bradley Greene saw some time at guard last year. Juniors Kyle Rust and Morgan Race could help out there. Nine sophomores hope to make an impact for Highlands. They are Michael Dunn, Robby Gabbard, Griffin Huber, Jacob Noe, Korbyn Poole, Braden Posey, Carl Schoellman, Elliot Schuette and Adam Uhlenbrock. Posey scored 18 points in the 59-30 district tournament win over Dayton.
Highlands may have to play some of its home games at new sites until the gym renovations complete. Highlands has practiced at places like Regents Hall on the Northern Kentucky University campus.
"Actually I told them it's an advantage," Listerman said. "We've been able to work things out where we can practice at colleges. We get to practice on a larger floor. Conditioning-wise, we get to really extend ourselves. I know our kids are excited about getting in there and playing. It's just a lot of momentum heading into the season."
After facing Bishop Brossart, Highlands plays in the Swauger Holiday Classic at Bellevue. The Bluebirds take on Morgan County from eastern Kentucky at 2 p.m. on Dec. 21.