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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Coming Out Stronger and Finishing

Ladybirds Survive 9th Semifinals, Bluebirds Fall

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands freshman Maria Wiefering (20) puts in the game-winning shot against Boone County with 18:39 left in the game while Lady Rebel senior Peyton Black (right) watches. The Ladybirds won 2-1 to advance to the championship game at Tower Park on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against arch-rival Notre Dame.
Mother Nature may have just saved the season for the Highlands Ladybirds soccer team.

Highlands (20-2-1 overall) had not been playing its greatest soccer in the 9th Region Tournament. The Ladybirds struggled through a 1-0 victory over St. Henry in the region quarterfinals and found themselves trailing the 33rd District champion Boone County Lady Rebels by the same score in the second half of the region semifinals Wednesday.

During play, the officials noticed lightning off in the distance. After a bit, the decision came to finish the game Thursday with 26 minutes, 27 seconds left in the game. The Ladybirds came out a different team and pushed past the Lady Rebels (16-5-3), 2-1 to advance to their first 9th Region championship game since 2013.

"I've given them so much tactical stuff that I'm not going to do that anymore," said Brian Wiefering, Highlands Head Coach. "We told them to go out, play your game, relax and have fun. Don't force things up the middle. I told them I think the thunder was an act from God because they overlooked St. Henry and I think they overlooked Boone County. They go down 1-0 and realize Boone County is a good team. Now, they have the next 24 hours to think about it. We had to come out like we're playing (defending state champion) Sacred Heart."

Highlands will receive another shot at the arch-rival Notre Dame Pandas (18-6-1) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. back at Tower Park. Notre Dame knocked off Newport Central Catholic, 4-1 in the other region semifinal game.

The Pandas have eliminated the Ladybirds in four of the past five seasons on their way to five consecutive region crowns and two state championships. Highlands lost to Notre Dame by 3-0 counts in the region title game in 2013 and the region semifinals the following season. The Pandas nipped the Ladybirds, 1-0 in the region semifinals last year.

Highlands beat Notre Dame, 3-1 in the regular season last year and 3-2 this year when senior Claudia Hils half-volleyed a shot in with 12 seconds left in regulation. But the last Highlands team to beat Notre Dame in both regular season and postseason play was the 2008 state runner-up squad. That Ladybirds squad beat the Pandas, 2-1 during the regular season and 1-0 in the 10th Region championship game. The 2005 and 2006 state championship Highlands squads also had to survive 1-0 wins over the Pandas in region play. The 2006 postseason game went to a shoot-out.

"With experience, we have gone down in games before," said Sydney Ossege, Highlands senior. "We just know we're the type of team that will not get down with one goal. We had to be tenacious and work hard to get to every ball. We really did that in the last 27 minutes of this game."

Boone County had 10 shots to nine for Highlands. But Ladybird junior Olivia McQueary made nine saves including several late in the game. Senior Kiley Anderson had seven saves for the Lady "Rebels.

Boone County had two solid scorers in Ryielan Hamilton and senior Peyton Black. Hamilton had 33 goals and 13 assists for a total of 79 points and Black had 25 goals and 10 assists for a total of 60 points. But the Highlands defense did not let them get off hard shots.

"Throughout the season, our Coach (Brian Wiefering) has said every last ditch. You get to the ball no matter what it takes," said Kylie Stava, Highlands junior. "We have a sign in our shed that says Sacrifice written on it. That's our biggest motto for the season. That's how we won that game. We left it on the field."

Black scored her 26th goal of the season 34:52 left in the game. She received an indirect free kick when the ball went off a Highlands player to McQueary. But the officials ruled the deflection to McQueary was intentional awarding the free kick to Black. Black tapped it past the Highlands wall to give the Lady Rebels a 1-0 lead.

But on Thursday, it did not take Highlands long to erase the lead. Ladybird freshman Ali Gessner took a shot that Anderson blocked away from the net. But senior Kiersten Clukey tracked the ball down and scored on the rebound for her seventh of the season to tie the game at 1-1 with 21:05 left in the game. Clukey also has six assists on the year for a total of 20 points.

A well-executed Highlands run gave the Ladybirds the lead for good at 2-1 with 18:39 left in the game. Ossege made a nice pass to sophomore Lindsey Meyer before Meyer found freshman Maria Wiefering for the score. That marked the eighth goal for Maria Wiefering and the sixth assist for Meyer this year. Maria Wiefering also has five assists for a total of 21 points and Meyer has 12 goals for a total of 30 points.

"I think we're going to go into the next game playing as hard as we did (Thursday)," Maria Wiefering said. "We're just going to work as a team. We just played our hearts out and it paid off."

Highlands last won a region crown in 2010. The Ladybirds beat the Pandas, 2-0 in the 10th Region title game that year, also at Tower Park.

Soccer, Boys:
9th Region Semifinals:
Ryle 1, Highlands 0:

The Bluebirds hoped to join the Ladybirds on region championship Saturday, but could not take down the hosts in the semifinals. Highlands allowed an own goal with 13 minutes left in the game.

"It was a corner kick that just came in the box and was kind of bumping around a little bit," said Matthew Winkler, Highlands Head Coach. "When we went to clear it, it deflected into the net. It was at the far end of the field away from (the Highlands bench) so we didn't have a really good angle on it. That's the best we could tell."

Highlands (18-3-2) managed just four shots including three on goal against Ryle (19-4-2). On the other side, the Raiders put up nine shots on goal. Highlands senior goalkeepers Paul Tully and Simon Frink recorded four and five saves respectively.

Highlands graduates 11 seniors from the team in Frink, Tully, Aaron Williams, Brandon Zachary, Collin Ginter, Colton Dolezal, Ethan Mills, Parker Smith, leading point-scorer Solomon Farris, Tommy Browe and Tommy Steppe. Smith hopes future Highlands teams learn a huge lesson from this one.

"I've played on a lot of teams in a lot of different sports, but I don't think any of them are as close as this team was," Smith said. "What we lacked in talent, we made up for because we fought for every game for our best friends that were standing next to us. I think that the younger guys may have even more talent than we did so if they are able to grow as close as we did over this year, they will have very successful seasons."

Highlands won its second district championship in three years and also won a region tournament game for the first time since 2013. Winkler and staff can pull players up from the 9th Region JV Tournament championship Highlands squad to help returning players such as juniors Nick Gish and Drew Rom.

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