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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ladybirds coming together in time for postseason

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior McKenzie Leigh (31) puts up a shot in a recent game against Conner. Leigh is averaging 9.75 points per game for the 19-9 Ladybirds.
It may not have looked good on the outside.

But the rough stretch against solid competition has paid its dues lately. The Highlands Ladybirds basketball team (19-9 overall) came out of the seven-game stretch that saw just one victory and losses to Louisville Male, Louisville Mercy, Mason County, Covington Holy Cross, Holmes and concluded with a 59-45 defeat at Ryle on Feb. 1 and has won five straight nearing the postseason.

"A lot of credit goes to the girls. They stayed the course," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "They knew we had a tough stretch of games coming up in January. They didn't quit, which was great to see. They kept battling. Some teams could have folded and went backwards."

During the winning streak, the average margin of victory has been 24.4 points. That includes a 62-39 victory over a 19-10 Conner Lady Cougar squad that Highlands beat in the final seconds, 47-46 in the title game of the LaRosa's Holiday Classic.

Four starters can explode in any given game. Freshman point guard Zoie Barth leads Highlands averaging 11.77 points per game and senior Brianna Adler averages 11.3 with McKenzie Leigh and Haley Coffey following at 9.75 and 8.32 respectively.

Highlands has made 480-of-1,187 shots for just more than 40 percent including 148-of-465 three-point tries for about 32 percent. The Ladybirds have also made 388-of-533 free throws for 73 percent.

"We've been playing very well lately," Walz-Richey said. "It's great to see. The teamwork is coming together. Defensively, they're doing what we've asked them to do each game. Offensively, they're making shots and making that extra pass. We're mixing up two-pointers with three-pointers. We're getting easier looks on the three-point line because we're scoring inside."

Highlands saw a lot of man-to-man pressure defenses early in the season. But Barth and Coffey have broken them down lately leading to the balanced scoring.

"As a point guard, you have to make plays for other people," Barth said. "Not only for yourself, but others first. You have to open up shots for them. Once their shots get taken away, you can open things up for other people. Once everyone's contributing, the team does well."

The Ladybirds have seen other players have their moments. That includes the fourth senior in Izzy Schultz in addition to junior Macy Gabbard, Lauren Epperson, Emma Little and freshman Chloe Jansen.

"I think we're clicking more as a team," Jansen said. "We're learning how each other plays and what our roles are as a team. We're listening to our coaches and executing our plays more. We came together at one point in January and said something needs to change. We've picked it up since then."

Highlands concludes the regular season at Simon Kenton (19-5) on Thursday at 6 p.m. The Lady Pioneers have won seven in a row with just one senior. They are led by sophomore Ally Niece who averages 21.1 points per game. Niece has plenty of help as sophomore forward Shelby Harmeyer averages 12.3 and junior center Madi Meier averages 11.3 points per game.

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