|Bluebirds Record 18th Shutout of Season; Highlands Boys Face Montgomery County in Semi-State at Tower Park|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior midfielder Abby Stein makes a move Monday in the Sub-State 5 game.|
That was a trip to Lexington for the state quarterfinals. The 9th Region champion Highlands Bluebirds girls soccer team (21-4 overall) used its speed to handle the three-time defending 10th Region champion George Rogers Clark Lady Cardinals, 4-0 in the Semi-State 5 contest Monday to earn just that. Highlands has outscored opponents, 106-14.
The 21st victory surpasses the 2016 team's total. The last time Highlands won 21 games in a season came in 2006 when the Bluebirds won their last state championship. The 2005 state championship team holds the school record at 24-2.
Highlands takes on the 4th Region champion Greenwood Lady Gators on Saturday 3 p.m. at Dunbar High School in Lexington. Greenwood (17-2-3) defeated 3rd Region champion and host Owensboro Catholic, 2-1 on penalty kicks in Semi-State 2 to advance.
Highlands out-shot GRC (14-8-2), 31-3 including 23-2 on goal. Junior Maggie Hinegardner made two saves for the Bluebirds before junior goalkeeper Rylee Thomas took over between the pipes with 16 minutes, 47 seconds left in the game.
This marked the 18th shutout of the season for Highlands. The Bluebirds have recorded 10 straight shutouts and 12 overall during their 13-game winning streak.
The game might have been worse if not for the great game between the pipes from GRC senior goalkeeper Brooklyn Johnson. She made 18 saves.
"We didn't get discouraged. We kept shooting," said Alex Dean, Highlands Head Coach. "We hit the post a couple times. But we kept going, going and going. We got off on the right foot by putting two in real quick and then kind of laid off the gas pedal a little bit, which is something we have to work on, but we kind of regrouped and put two more in after halftime to sail our way to victory, which was alright, but we can't be doing that next round definitely."
Highlands contained the two leading scorers for GRC in sophomore forward Allie Bush and junior Delaney Manning. Bush came in with 58 points on 25 goals and eight assists and Manning had 22 goals and 12 points for 56 points. GRC had one great scoring chance in the first half, but Highlands cleared the ball.
"We were constantly on the attack," said Katelynn Helminiak, Highlands junior defender. "As defenders, it keeps us motivated and hyped because we see our attackers trying to score so we want to try harder to defend the other team and keep them from scoring. Having quickness in the back definitely helps. We can really cover for each other easy. It works really well."
GRC could not contain the two leading scorers for Highlands. Senior forward Lindsey Meyer had two goals and an assist for five points and junior forward Maria Wiefering added a goal and two assists for three points. Highlands did a magnificent job trapping all over the field again and passing the ball to the dynamic duo to make things happen. Senior Gwen Gorman and junior Parker Price added assists.
Meyer has 26 goals and 14 assists this season for 66 points and Wiefering's totals are 17 goals and nine assists for 43 points. Meyer's school-record career totals stand at 73 goals and 43 assists for 189 points.
Wiefering made a move in the box in the first couple minutes and drew a foul. Junior Lauren Deckert kicked in the penalty kick to the upper left to give the Bluebirds the only goal they would need to win. Deckert has five goals and six assists on the season for 16 points.
Meyer struck a few minutes later with 31:31 left in the half. Wiefering passed to her left to Meyer for the score.
"It was amazing," said Jordan Halpin, Highlands junior forward. "That's what our coach told us to do. That's what he expects of us. It broke (GRC) down a little bit and gave us a little more momentum to score two more. It's relaxing, but we always have to be on our toes because you never know what can happen because it's post-season. But it is good to have a cushion."
Meyer scored her second goal with 37:23 left in the game to put Highlands up 3-0. She moved to her left and scored. Meyer then found Wiefering for a header with 30:10 left in the game for the game's final goal.
That lead let the Bluebirds play other players to earn experience playing in the state tournament. Junior forward Mallory Zimmerman was one of them.
"I definitely think that learning to play as a team and making sure everybody works as a unit is important in reaching state," Zimmerman said. "All these girls are amazing and we all have the same goal. We practice every day of the week. We work for an hour and a half, two hours at a time. We work on everything (from) fundamentals to team bonding so I think it's going to come into play."
Dean again commended the three assists for their roles in helping Highlands drive this far. They are Kelsey Etherton, Olivia Huber, Joe Dean and former Highlands Head Coach Nina Kearns.
"The coaching staff is fantastic," Alex Dean said. "That's the one thing that I did well on is getting the coaching staff aligned. I'm very grateful to have them and very happy they were nice to enough to join the staff. The girls have definitely learned a lot. They're treated fairly. They make my life easier, which makes the girls' lives easier."
Highlands has faced two of the teams remaining in the state quarterfinals. The Bluebirds beat 12th Region champion and two-time defending state champion West Jessamine, 2-1 on the road on Sept. 8 and lost both games against 7th Region champion Sacred Heart.
Previewing Semi-State 5 Match-Up with Montgomery County:
Many of the players from the 9th Region champion Highlands boys soccer team (20-1-3) came to the game Monday. They hustled down to Ryle after beating Cooper, 4-0 in the 9th Region semifinals at Covington Catholic on Thursday to watch the 9th Region girls championship. The Highlands girls returned the favor on Saturday when Highlands beat the host Colonels, 2-1 to win the 9th Region crown.
"It shows that we're all their for each other," said Cary Gorrigan, Highlands senior forward. "We all care (about) what everybody does. We just want to win. When we see the girls play, we say, 'Go get them' and things like that."
Montgomery County comes to Tower Park at 17-3-1 on the season. The lone common opponents are Bishop Brossart and Campbell County. The Indians beat the Mustangs (1-0) during the regular season and the Camels (2-0) in the 10th Region semifinals before beating Pendleton County (2-1) in the 10th Region championship on Saturday. Highlands beat Campbell County (7-0) and tied Bishop Brossart (0-0).
That game took place in the evening allowing Highlands Head Coach Chad Niedert to go down after Highlands beat CovCath in the afternoon. Highlands last played the Indians on Sept. 27, 2016 in Mount Sterling and came away with a 3-1 win.
Highlands has outscored teams, 92-10 on the season and recorded 15 shutouts and Montgomery County has outscored opponents, 77-25 this year with seven shutouts. The Indian goalkeeper is senior Danny Hernandez.
The Indians started the season 1-3 losing by a combined 9-2 to three teams from Lexington in Lafayette, Tates Creek and Lexington Catholic. The Indians finished 2-3-1 against teams in the 11th Region.
"We're at the point in our season where we're more worried about what we're doing," Niedert said. "I think as long as we don't become our own worst enemy, we're going to be just fine. We've had games where we've lacked crispness and we've kind of lost focus. Those have been some of our times and things. I'm pretty confident in what our guys have been doing all year."
Highlands last won region in 2013 beating West Jessamine (1-0) in the semi-state round. The Bluebirds then lost 3-1 to eventual state champion Lexington Paul Dunbar.