New Highlands Bluebirds girls soccer head coach Alex Dean was in junior high when the team claimed back-to-back state championships in 2005 and 2006.
Dean would like nothing more than to help the program bring home another title. The big thing for the 2011 Highlands graduate and former player to do that comes down to respect. That's respect for teammates, the coaches, opponents and officials specifically.
"Even though I was in the boys' program, I still knew the girls that everyone was expected to do the right thing on and off the field," Dean said. "They were expected to win the right way. It clears your mind if you're able to do that. You can ask any player that played in the boys program (last season). The harder they worked, the better they were."
Dean met with the players last week and watched a couple games last year. Highlands returns 19 players that played on varsity last year including the two leading scorers in junior Lindsey Meyer and sophomore Maria Wiefering. Wiefering scored 22 goals and had 10 assists for 54 points with Meyer tallying 18 goals and 13 assists for 49 points. The returning players scored 92 of the 102 Highlands goals last year.
"Almost all of them play club so they have that skill, which can help win games," Dean said. "Being more physical can really get us in the direction of winning that regional championship."
Highlands has gone 64-26-3 in the last four seasons. The Bluebirds have won three 36th District championships during that time with one appearance in the 9th Region championship in 2016 and losses in the region semifinals the other three times.
"We're just going to try to stay positive and still have the same chemistry as we've had in years before," said Hannah Gish, Highlands junior defender. "We've already met the coach and he seems really cool just like our other coaches. We're just going to have a fun year."
Dean wants to see the players play more aggressive. He saw that on the Highlands boys team last year as an assistant coach. The Highlands boys lost 3-1 to Ryle in the 9th Region championship last year.
Dean has two years of head coaching experience with the Silver Grove Lady Trains girls basketball team. Silver Grove improved from a winless 0-21 campaign his first season to 2-21 last year with both wins coming against Covington Latin. Dean teaches fourth, fifth and sixth grade at Silver Grove. The three classes have a total of 40 students for an average of between 13 and 14 per class. He'll continue to coach the Silver Grove girls next season.
"Getting them committed was a huge step. The hardest thing at Silver Grove is getting enough girls to play," Dean said. "If you have enough, it's keeping them committed to something and getting them to enjoy it even if they don't win. Even at Highlands, almost all of them are committed, but it's just giving that extra 10 percent to get them to 110 percent commitment. The more (commitment) they have, the more the team can succeed."
Dean has played and coached against rivals Covington Catholic and Newport Central Catholic. He is aware that arch-rival Notre Dame has won seven straight region championships. The Pandas have eliminated the Bluebirds in region play five of the past seven years. Highlands has beaten Notre Dame three times during the regular season in the past four years.
"If we do come out winning, we have to be humble about it," Dean said. "We don't need to show the other team up even if it is a rival. We can celebrate. But we're not going to overdo it just because it's a rival."
Dean has not hired any assistant coaches yet. But he does want assistants that have the same expectations for the players as he does. The first official practice takes place July 15.