|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. The Highlands Ladybirds recorded a 3-0 win over Newport Central Catholic on Wednesday in the 36th District championship game. This marked the ninth district title in 11 years for Highlands.|
But despite that during the regular season on Sept. 19, the Highlands Ladybirds (18-2-1 overall) needed double overtime to beat the Newport Central Catholic Lady Breds, 1-0 to take the top seed in the 36th District Tournament. Freshman Ali Gessner scored the game-winning goal with eight seconds left in the second five-minute overtime frame to win it for Highlands.
Head Coach Brian Wiefering challenged Highlands to not let the game come down to that in the 36th District championship game Wednesday at Tower Park. The Ladybirds did not disappoint scoring twice in the first half then adding another in the second to win 3-0 over the Lady Breds (16-4-1).
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"I think what happens is sometimes when they see rivals, they lose focus on their game and they play kickball," Wiefering said. "I've seen that in the past. I think they played to their level the last time they played them. (On Wednesday), they showed how good they are."
Highlands won its ninth district championship in the last 11 seasons as a result. Highlands last won 18 games in a season in 2008 when the state-runner up squad led by the likes of Laura Bush, twins Molly and McKenzie Hicks, Mallory Adler and Laurene Wiseman did it. The Ladybirds have outscored the competition by an 86-7 count. That is the most goals in a season for Highlands dating back to 2002.
Highlands played great ball-possession offense consistently finding patches of grass and creating scoring opportunities. The Lady Breds outshot the Ladybirds, 17-14, but Highlands put nine shots on goal compared to seven for NewCath. Highlands junior goalkeeper Olivia McQueary played in the first half recording six saves and senior Shannon Eaton played in between the pipes in the second half recording no saves. That marked the 17th shutout of the year for Highlands. NewCath senior goalkeeper Meg Martin recorded six saves.
"I think if you look at every girl on the bench during the game and see the ones who maybe didn't get into the game in the first half cheering the whole time for their teammates," Wiefering said. "They're friends on and off the field. It allows us coaches not to be distracted by other other drama but to focus on soccer. That means a lot."
Martin has 15 shutouts on the season. NewCath has outscored the competition, 89-11 on the season. The three goals ties the most the Lady Breds have allowed this year. Murray also did it on Sept. 24 in the All "A" State Tournament semifinals in a 3-1 win.
NewCath had a great opportunity to score on a Highlands hand ball just five minutes into the game. But the shot went wide right.
Highlands scored with 30:49 left in the first half. Senior Kiersten Clukey, who made the all-tournament team, fired the ball from just outside the 18-yard box to the upper left where Martin could not get it. The shot ricocheted off the left post and into the goal to give the Ladybirds a 1-0 advantage. That marked Clukey's sixth goal of the season.
"I have to give credit to my teammates because they're all awesome," Clukey said. "They're so selfless and really, I couldn't do it without my teammates. We knew that this was going to be a really hard game coming into it and I think that that (goal) really set the standard for the game. I think we got excited and wanted to keep going."
The Ladybirds scored their second goal with 13:56 left in the half. Junior Molly Wiefering drew a free kick from the left side of the 18-yard box. The ball flew over the NewCath defense and into the net for her fourth goal of the season to give Highlands a 2-0 halftime advantage.
Highlands had a great opportunity to go up 3-0 with 21:55 left in the second half. Freshman Maria Wifering had a one-on-one opportunity with Martin. When Martin came out to cut her off, Maria Wiefering's shot went left.
But the Ladybirds scored the third goal with 19:43 left in the game. Gessner passed the ball out to sophomore Lindsey Meyer outside the 18-yard-box. She fired to the upper left for her 12th goal of the season. That marked Gessner's ninth assist of the season.
Senior forward and Morehead State commit Taylor Tolle leads NewCath with 33 goals on the season. The best opportunity for NewCath to score in the second half came with 30 minutes left. Erin Bunzel played a nice ball to Natalie Martin, but the shot went high. Natalie Martin is second on the team in scoring with 15 goals.
But Highlands did a great job marking all game. Freshman Parker Price marked Tolle at times in the game.
"I think our communication and everybody trusting each other back there really helps out," Price said. "It starts all the way from the top getting back and helping us out. I feel like getting in there and feeling like a part of the team helps out. You have to know the player you're going against well. You also have to know your teammates very well and (the defense) all comes together."
Highlands will play in the 9th Region quarterfinals on Tuesday. The Ladybirds will play St. Henry, Covington Holy Cross or the loser of the 33rd District championship between Ryle and Boone County.