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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nationally-ranked Ladybirds tie Mount Notre Dame

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto,com. Highlands senior Karolym Lukjan (3) makes her move in a recent game.
A strong showing last week earned the Highlands Ladybirds soccer team recognition not only locally and statewide, but nationally.

Highlands outscored its first seven opponents by a combined 36-0 to jump to second in Kentucky in the Maher Rankings behind defending state champion Louisville Sacred Heart. But the Ladybirds also found themselves ranked 17th in the USA Today High School Sports/National Soccer Coaches Association of America Super 25 Expert Rankings.

"It is gratifying," said Brian Wiefering, Highlands Head Coach. "It was tough. We came in here with a vision and said it has to be done this way or it's not going to happen. I appreciate the school giving us the support for us to come and make that vision occur. This team has bought into that vision."

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But this week started off with a huge challenge from another Girls Greater Catholic League opponent in the Mount Notre Dame Cougars ranked 16th in the Ohio Maher Rankings. Highlands defeated GCL South opponent Ursuline, 1-0 earlier in the season.

While Highlands did not win the game for the first time this season or even lose, it learned a lot from the 1-1 tie Tuesday. The Ladybirds (7-0-1 overall) need to be more patient in a ball-control offense to beat teams like Mount Notre Dame (2-1-1) and not just boot the ball up-field after winning possession.

"I think the team probably wasn't used to this speed," Wiefering said. "This team was pressuring us like we like to pressure teams. That girl that had the ball was freaking out and pushing it forward. Everyone else was just running forward. No one was checking off the ball, Their decisions weren't great."

Mount Notre Dame has seven girls committed to playing soccer at the college level. The Cougars outshot the Ladybirds, 15-6 overall including a 6-4 advantage on goal. The Cougars had one shot deflect off the left bar late in the game off a free kick. Highlands junior goalkeeper Olivia McQueary made five saves and Cougar sophomore goalkeeper Siena Dicari had three.

The only goals of the game came in the first half. With 13:04 left in the half, the Cougars drew a penalty just outside the 18-foot-box and sophomore Becky Dean finished it for the first goal scored on the Ladybirds all season.

Mount Notre Dame nearly went up 2-0 with 8:08 left in the quarter. The Cougars drew a penalty in the box earning a penalty kick. But the shot sailed above the goal leaving the score at 1-0.

"That was one of the things we coaches have talked about," Wiefering said. "How would they respond if one goes in? Are they going to crumble and give up four or five? The fact that they responded with a goal and came away with a tie. That was nice to see."

Highlands came up with the equalizer with 7:03 left in the half. Freshman Maria Wiefering found herself one-on-one with Dicari and put it past Dicari for her third goal of the season.

"I was scared because I usually miss those when I go one-on-one," Maria Wiefering said. "But this time, I knew that it was going to be a team effort. It started from the back, went up to midfield and went up to me. I knew I had to get this one in to get our team pumped up and ready to win the game."

The physical game saw a total of 32 fouls. The Cougars drew 18 and had three yellow cards compared to one yellow card for the Ladybirds.

Collectively, Highlands only allowed two hard shots. Aside from the goal, senior Jenna Prathapa got a one off just four minutes into the second half. But McQueary blocked it out of bounds.

"We are a unit back there (in the defensive backfield)," said Karolyn Lukjan, Highlands senior defender. "When one (ball) goes back there (in the attacking third), we always have someone covering. We are great at covering and going for the ball. If we go for the ball, we go with our bodies and try to kick it out, possess and get it (up-field). It starts up top. We have forwards and midfielders helping us out on defense. We hadn't been doing it in past years. Everyone is working together. It's great."

Neither team left with any major injuries. But Highlands senior Kayla Nehus has not been able to step on the field after tearing her left Anterior Cruciated Ligament on the first day of try-outs and had surgery a couple weeks ago. But she's still trying to be a leader.

"Between schoolwork, therapy and doctors appointments, I'm trying to show up as much as I can and keep all these girls positive because it's hard when you're sitting there and it's like, 'Yeah, we're winning but there's still a bit of conflict on the field that I can't deal with," Nehus said. "But I can always deal with the side bench and I can always keep them pumped up no matter what even if the midfield is having a problem not contacting and not talking. I make sure they're okay. I just got told I'm allowed to walk without my brace today so it's exciting."

The Highlands junior varsity squad (6-1-1) defeated Mount Notre Dame, 2-0. Sophomore Gwen Culyer and freshman Maria Broering scored the Ladybird goals.

Highlands does not play again until Saturday at Ryle (3-4-1). Game time is 6 p.m.

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