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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Highlands Girls Soccer State Semifinals Preview

Bluebirds Face Unfamiliar Banshees in State Semifinals

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands goalkeeper Maggie Hinegardner (in pink) goes up to make a catch on a corner kick against Greenwood in the state quarterfinals on Saturday.  Teammates Hannah Hartman (11), Lauren Deckert (7), Tatum Price (5) and Hanna Buecker (16) get in position. Highlands plays Bardstown Bethlehem in the state semifinals at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Of the three opponents left in the girls soccer state tournament, the Highlands Bluebirds will take on the one they are not familiar with.

That's the private school Bardstown Bethlehem Banshees (24-2-2 overall). Bethlehem won the 5th Region and All "A" State Tournament. The Banshees beat 2nd Region champion Henderson County, 3-2 in double overtime on Saturday to make it to the state quarterfinals after Highlands (22-4) beat Greenwood, 3-1. Encyclopedia Wikipedia lists a Banshee as a female spirit in Irish mythology.

"I think the hunger that we have built throughout the year has been incredible," said Alex Dean, Highlands Head Coach. "At the beginning of the year, we say these things that we want to be playing on Nov. 3. Then we get into the season, we start realizing, 'Wow. We have some talent. We can actually do this' and when we got into the post-season, the first game was going to be different for us because as a coaching staff, this was the first time kind of going under the pressure of the postseason and we handled that one then handled the district and regionals. Really after the regionals, we became more hungry because we realized that we can beat some good teams and we can make a run. After the Sweet 16 game, we came into the Elite Eight game with a little bit more hunger. Now we're looking into Wednesday knowing we're that close to being where we wanted to be at the beginning of the year."

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The state semifinals shift from the west side of Lexington to the east side at the newly-built Frederick Douglass High School. Frederick Douglass opened last year. Highlands played its state quarterfinal game at Dunbar High School.

The game starts at 8 p.m. after two-time defending state champion West Jessamine (18-4-1) and 7th Region champion Louisville Sacred Heart (23-1-1) face off at 6 p.m. Highlands went 1-2 against those two during the regular season losing both games to Sacred Heart and beating West Jessamine, 2-1 on Sept. 8 in Nicholasville. The state championship game is Saturday, Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. back at Frederick Douglass.

The teams have three common opponents in Louisville Assumption, Louisville DuPont Manual and Newport Central Catholic. Bethlehem went 1-1-1 against those three losing 9-2 to Manual in Bardstown on Aug. 20, tying Assumption (1-1) on Sept. 17 and beating NewCath (2-1) in the All "A" State Tournament.

Highlands went 3-1 against those teams winning both games against NewCath including a 1-0 victory at Morscher Field on Oct. 11. The Bluebirds beat Manual (3-0) in the Lexington Catholic Cup after losing 1-0 to Assumption two days prior.

Of the four losses for Highlands, three have come against teams from the 7th Region. The other one came Sept. 17 against Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Ursula, 2-1.

"The teams that we played are very, very good and I think that's going to help us out," Dean said. "We've played some tough teams and we know that we can handle them. If we play our A game, hopefully we come out on top."

Highlands has played solid defense all season outscoring opponents, 109-15 including 26-1 in the postseason. The Bluebirds have reached their preseason goal with 18 shutouts this year.

Highlands allowed just three shots with the lone on goal resulting in a goal against Greenwood. Junior Maggie Hinegardner played the entire game against the Lady Gators. But junior Rylee Thomas has also seen action in the goal for the Bluebirds.

"I think the defense is a whole team effort," said Kelsey Schuett, Highlands junior defender/midfielder. "It starts with the front line, the strikers then the midfielders are obviously next. Our defense does a good job of helping Maggie and Rylee in goal with shutouts and helping us not letting (opponents) get shots off."

That goal by Greenwood's Annabel Justice 27 minutes, 20 seconds into the first half marked the lone goal the Bluebirds have allowed in October. Highlands did not clear the ball like it did the entire game allowing Justice to quickly strike one just over Hinegardner's hands.

Highlands had shut out 10 straight opponents not allowing a goal since a 3-2 win at Notre Dame on Sept. 22. The Bluebirds have won 14 in a row overall.

"I was watching film. It was an unlucky play," Dean said. "We kind of miscleared it. The girl took a really quick touch and a nice shot. We have to make sure we clear (balls) obviously, but after we give up a goal, we need to make sure we don't give up another one. After we gave up that goal, we were up 2-1. We waited until the second half until we got it back. But we made sure we didn't give up another one. That's kind of the mindset we're going to keep going with."

Highlands used its speed to beat Greenwood and could have an edge in this game as well. The Bluebirds are led offensively by senior school record-setting forward Lindsey Meyer. Meyer has team-highs of 27 goals and 14 assists for 68 points. Meyer has 27 goals and 14 assists on the year for 68 points. Her Highlands career record totals stand at 74 goals and 43 assists for 191 points.

But 10 different Bluebirds have scored at least 10 points. Junior forward Maria Wiefering is next with 17 goals and 10 assists for 44 points and sophomore forward Kenzie Nehus is third with 11 goals and eight assists for 30 points.

The Banshees have outscored opponents, 151-37 on the season. They have 10 shutouts this season. Their goalkeeper is sophomore Lauren Debold.

Bethlehem has balanced scoring with nine players at 16 or more points on the season. Senior forward Maddie Sparks leads the way with 42 goals and 19 assists for 103 points and senior forward Abigail Proctor has 28 goals and 22 assists for 78 points. Senior midfielder Carly Beam is third with 29 goals and 12 assists for 70 points.

"I think being able to have a lot of scoring options is going to be tough," Dean said. "But we've been playing some teams that have been really tough like the team that we're getting ready to play. We'll be prepared. We know that we have to be aware on all sides of the field not just maybe like a striker or a winger. We have to have all four girls making sure that we have all of them covered."

Highlands last played in the state semifinals in 2008. The Bluebirds beat Woodford County, 1-0 before losing 2-0 to Sacred Heart in the state championship game. The games took place at Toyota Stadium in Georgetown.

Directions to Frederick Douglass High School:

- Head South on Interstate 75 to Lexington
- Take the Winchester Road Exit (Exit 110) and go East toward Lexington
- Frederick Douglass is accessible from Winchester Road on the left.

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