|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey smiles while cutting down the nets Thursday. Highlands has won five district championships and won 275 games since she became head coach in 2002.|
Her influence on the game, especially in Northern Kentucky, continued to show itself this past week. Richey received her 13th Hall of Fame induction into the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 17. She scored 4,948 points in her storied career and led the Highlands Ladybirds to three straight 9th Region crowns before graduating in 1996. Highlands finished state runner-up in 1994.
"They were trying to get me inducted a few years ago but the schedules didn't work," Richey said. "It's just a great honor to be inducted into all the Northern Kentucky Halls of Fame."
A 14th induction could come this fall. Richey will be eligible to enter the Highlands High School Sports Hall of Fame. Nominees have to have graduated at least 20 years ago.
Richey has been the head coach of the Ladybirds since 2002. Highlands recorded its 275th win against just 147 losses during her 14 years as head coach with an 81-58 win over the Newport Ladycats (13-14) in the 36th District championship Thursday at Bellevue High.
"We're playing well," Richey said. "We just have to continue to do that. They're just going out and playing. They're listening to what our coaches are doing and they're going out and having fun. That's the biggest thing you want."
That marked the fifth district championship since Richey became head coach and third in the last four years. Highlands last won consecutive district championships in 2007 and 2008 led by the likes of Katie Allen, Alex Adler-Begley and Victoria Poindexter.
The one difference this year is Highlands did not face the rival Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds in the district tournament for the first time since 2006 after Newport upset NewCath, 62-58 in the semifinals Tuesday. Newport last won the district championship that 10 years ago.
Brianna Adler and Zoie Barth hit consecutive three-pointers to start the game and Highlands never looked back. The Ladybirds led 46-29 at halftime and 67-41 entering the fourth quarter.
The Ladybirds moved the ball well offensively recording 14 assists. McKenzie Leigh led Highlands with five assists.
All five Highlands starters scored at least eight points. Tournament Most Valuable Player Adler, and Barth scored 17 each with Haley Coffey and Leigh scoring 12 each. Epperson contributed eight. Epperson and Barth made the all-tournament team.
"We worked the ball around," Adler said. "We'd take it inside then take it outside. If they're guarding the three, we'll pound it inside. If they're guarding the inside, we'll kick it out and hit the three. We've been practicing that a lot."
Senior Kylie Orr had a solid game to keep Newport within striking distance with 31 points making 12-of-23 shots and collecting nine rebounds. But Highlands held Newport's Star Yeager to seven points. Dj Grey added 10 points for Newport.
"We did pretty well (defending Orr and Yeager)," Epperson said. "I feel we could have done more. They're very hard to defend. But we try to stick to what Jaime and Bert (Richey) tell us. We fouled a lot. We have to try to keep our balance and not fall into them, which we did a lot. It just shows aggressiveness so it's good."
Highlands won the rebounding battle, 35-29. Leigh led the way with seven rebounds.
The Ladybirds made 22-of-47 shots for 47 percent including 12-of-22 from three-point range for 55 percent. They also made 25-of-31 free throws for 81 percent.
Newport made just 21-of-57 shots for 37 percent including 4-of-18 from three-point range for 22 percent. The Ladycats also hit just 12-of-24 free throws for 50 percent.
Highlands will take on a runner-up team from either the 33rd, 34th or 35th District in the 9th Region quarterfinals at BB&T Arena on the Northern Kentucky University campus. Ryle beat Conner, 64-41 to win the 33rd. The other two district championship games take place Friday.