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Thursday, June 28, 2018

2017-2018 Highlands Sports Year in Review

Bluebird Teams Captured One Team and Two Individual State Championships

Photo: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. The Highlands girls cross country team won its fifth state championship in six years on Saturday at Kentucky Horse Park.
Another academic school year saw more great accomplishments for the Highlands High School athletic teams.

One team and two individuals captured state championships this year. The Highlands girls cross country team marked the lone team championship capturing its fifth state championship in the last six years. Highlands won the championship with 77 points placing six runners in the top 27. Ashland Blazer finished runner-up with 91 points.

"Our three, four and five runners were pretty far back," said Brian Alessandro, Highlands Head Coach. "They last couple meters is what won the race for us. I thought it would be closer than 14 points so I'm really pleased and happy."

The Highlands girls nearly had their first-ever individual state champion as well. Freshman Maggie Schroeder finished runner-up in 19 minutes, 17.78 seconds. That was just under two seconds behind Rockcastle County sophomore Victoria Dotson's time of 19:15.8.

"It means a lot. I really would have liked to win, but I left it all out there," Schroeder said. "I really wanted to see what I could do personally this year. If that is what you want to do, just go for it. A lot of times, it gets hard. We have a lot of people throwing up and passing out in practice. If you give up, nothing is going to happen. If you keep going, you can get there."

Highlands also had two individual state champions this year. Senior Andy Campbell won the boys individual state championship at Executive Strike and Spare bowling a total of 1,107 in five qualifying games. Campbell bested Jacob Rowan of Louisville DuPont Manual, 229-119 in the championship game. That marked the first individual state championship in bowling at Highlands and in Northern Kentucky.

"The amount of mental preparedness it took to prepare for state was probably a week long before the competition," Campbell said. "I tried to put myself through every scenario imaginable to make sure nothing caught me off guard. (The) conditions were tough, but I had prepared enough (that) I knew what needed to be done."

Campbell had to wait three matches in the four-person stepladder finals. He averaged 223 in six games in the tournament. Campbell scored 222 or more in five of the six matches.

"Andy's a very calm, cool and collect individual," said Glenn Schmidt, Highlands Head Coach. "He's very mature and he doesn't get overly excited. He knows he's got the capability to do what he needs to do to win. That's exactly what he did. He was like money in the bank all day. He threw the same shot. He hit his spot every time and he threw a lot of strikes. Technically, he won it without any competition."

In swimming, sophomore Finn Murphy won the boys one-meter diving championship with 452.6 points for the Bluebirds. He finished runner-up in the 7th Region meet.

"There's always a level of anxiousness or nervousness throughout the whole meet and everyone deals with them in their own way," Murphy said. "For me, I tried to take my mind off of it by socializing with the other divers. I've learned that if you focus too much on your next dive, you'll sometimes end up overthinking, which can lead to even more stress. As I'm setting up for my next dive on the board, I calm myself down by taking deep breaths to help clear my mind so that when I do the dive, I rely on my muscle memory. It's important to use trial and error to see what works best for you."

Overall, the Bluebird boys swimming and diving team won the 7th Region meet and finished third at the state meet with 154 points behind Louisville St. Xavier (453) and Lexington Catholic (229). Highlands won its first region championship since 1994 and ended Covington Catholic's 19-year domination of the region. Highlands scored 508 points to 381 for the Colonels.

"They did awesome," said Amanda Johnson, Highlands Head Coach. "I think we shocked some people. We went from 16th last year for the boys to third this year. That's crazy. That's a lot of places. The state meet gets faster and faster every year. I'm so proud of the kids. It was a great day."

The Highlands combined squads also won their seventh straight region championship scoring 760 points before finishing sixth at state. Dixie Heights finished second with 642.

The Highlands baseball team completed another impressive season with its second state runner-up finish in four years losing 10-6 to Louisville St. Xavier. It took a walk-off hit by pitch from Mr. Kentucky baseball Drew Rom to beat Covington Catholic, 3-2 for the Bluebirds to win their fourth straight 9th Region championship. Highlands beat South Oldham (4-2) and Paintsville (5-0) in the first two rounds to make it back to the state semifinals.

The Bluebirds had to hold off McCracken County in the state semifinals to go back to the championship game. The Mustangs had runners at first and second before junior Grady Cramer got the next two batters to pop out to junior Chris Bridwell at second to preserve the 4-3 win.

The Bluebirds finished 29-14 on the season. Led by 10 seniors, Highlands also won its seventh straight 36th District championship. That marked one of six district championships out of seven 36th District sports.

The Highlands girls track and field team ended up winning its sixth Class AA, Region 4 championship in the last seven years. The Bluebirds scored 158.33 points running away from the competition. The Highlands boys finished second at the region meet with 119.5 points. The Highlands girls finished fourth at state with 53 points and the boys finished 12th with 18.

The Highlands softball and boys soccer teams made it to the 9th Region title games. The softball team (20-11) had to etch out a win over Boone County, 2-1 in the region quarterfinals before handling St. Henry, 13-0 in five innings. The Bluebirds could not get past Ryle in a 4-0 defeat in the region championship.

Highlands graduated nine seniors on that team. Josie Daley played a big role on the 2014 and 2016 region championship teams and Brooke Dill had a big role on the 2016 team.

The boys soccer team made a remarkable run in the postseason. The Bluebirds (15-8) defeated Newport Central Catholic, 3-0 in the district championship before taking out Cooper, 3-1 in the region quarterfinals and Covington Catholic, 1-0 on penalty kicks. Highlands also could not figure out Ryle, 3-1 in a tough home loss in the region championship, but returns a good nucleus this fall to make another run.

In the fall, Highlands freshman golfer JD Gabbard tied for 20th in the state meet with 150 strokes. The Bluebirds finished runner-up in the 8th Region Tournament to qualify for state for the first time as a team since 2010. The Bluebirds then shot a 331 to tie for 17th on the first day of the state meet in Bowling Green.

The Highlands girls golf team improved in the fall. Highlands finished fifth in the 6th Region Tournament shooting a 393 at Lassing Pointe in Union after shooting a 419 for 9th in 2016. Four seniors graduate off that team.

The Highlands boys cross country team hoped to finish fourth in the Class AA meet and did just that with 228 points. Lexington Catholic won it with 39 points and Warren East finished runner-up with 134 followed by Boyle County's 153 points. Freshman Will Griffith took 18th in 17:26.82 to lead Highlands.

The tradition-rich Highlands football team hoped to bring the glory back in 2017 after a rough 3-8 mark in 2016. The Bluebirds finished 6-6, but let three games slip away in the last quarter including a 35-34 loss at South Oldham in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. The Bluebirds also lost to Lexington Catholic and Simon Kenton in the final quarter but managed to pull off a huge 27-20 overtime win over Campbell County.

The Highlands volleyball team (25-11) broke through in a huge way this past fall. The Bluebirds beat Newport Central Catholic twice in three matches including a 3-1 (25-17, 22-25, 28-26, 25-13) win in the 36th District championship for their first district crown since 2012. The Bluebirds also beat Dixie Heights, 3-2 (25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 23-25, 15-7) in the region quarterfinals for their first region tournament win since 2010 before losing 3-0 to region power Notre Dame in the semifinals.

The Highlands girls soccer team hoped to make it back to the 9th Region championship. But St. Henry upset the Bluebirds (17-5-1), 1-0 on penalty kicks in the region semifinals. Highlands still managed a 1-0 win over Newport Central Catholic in the 36th District championship game.

The winter saw the Highlands girls basketball team overcome some inexperience to put together a 24-8 mark and its fifth 36th District championship in six years. During the regular season, Highlands had impressive wins over Covington Holmes and Simon Kenton. But the biggest one came Jan. 20 in overtime over then second-ranked Campbell County. The season ended with a 54-46 loss to Conner in the region quarterfinals.

The Highlands boys basketball team took another step toward respectability with a 13-15 mark. The Bluebirds had a chance to beat Newport Central Catholic in the district semifinals, but a last-second shot came up short in a 61-59 loss.

The Highlands girls bowling team made it to the state tournament for the fourth straight year, but could not make it past the first round. The Bluebirds bowled an 815 to earn the ninth seed for the tournament before losing 3-1 (177-105, 157-146, 146-155, 176-113) to Lexington Bryan Station. Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park won the state championship. Freshman Abby Bach made it to the individual girls singles championship. The girls beat Campbell County to win the 5th Region title and the boys lost to in the semifinals to Simon Kenton.

The Highlands girls swimming and diving team finished fourth in the 7th Region meet with 252 points. They finished 20th with 25 points at the state meet.

In tennis, both teams finished in the top three of the 10th Region Tournament. The Highlands boys finished second and the girls finished third. One singles player and one doubles team from both sides made the state tournament.

Highlands also started an archer program this year. The team had its struggles, but also had a young team.

The Highlands cheerleading squad finished fourth in the Co-Ed Class A with 77.5 points. Highlands then went to nationals in February and placed 11th out of 41 teams. The squad participated in the Small Varsity Co-Ed Class that allows up to 20 individuals on the mat with no more than four boys.

The Highlands Dance Team also made state. The large pom squad finished second with 80.15 points and the small hip hop team placed third at state with 86.875 points.

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