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Saturday, October 27, 2018

A Historic Day for Bluebird Soccer as Both Teams Advance to State Semifinals

Highlands Earns Another Double Date

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Lindsey Meyer hits home a penalty kick with 23:08 left in the first half. Meyer has 27 goals and 14 assists on the year for 68 points. Her career school record totals stand at 74 goals and 43 assists for 191 points.
PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Gwen Gorman fires a long shot for a goal in the second half. That was her third goal of the season.

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, The Highlands boys soccer team waits in the pre-game Saturday before beating Daviess County, 3-0 in the state quarterfinals.

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Garrett Crowe attempts a header against Daviess County.

With a combined 34 shut-outs this season, one goal has often been more than enough for the Highlands Bluebirds girls and boys soccer teams to win games this year, let alone two, three or more.

But both teams left little doubt in their state quarterfinal wins on Saturday scoring three each. Their opponents combined for one goal as they earned another "double date" back to Lexington for the state semifinals in the middle of next week.

Both made it this deep in the post-season for the first time since 2008. They both finished state runners-up that year.

Highlands Girls 3, Greenwood 1:

Head Coach Alex Dean listed a quick goal as a priority and it happened not once, but twice in the first 20 minutes. The Bluebirds (22-4) kept the Lady Gators (17-3-3) at bay after that. They have outscored opponents, 109-15 this year.

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"As we've said in the post-season, it's 1-0," Dean said. "We (play like) we're down 1-0. In the last game, we relaxed. We didn't relax (Saturday). (Greenwood) has a really skilled team and was able to put one in. We kind of refocused. We started the second half and said, 'Hey, we're still 1-0. So we put one in. Don't give up one and we should go home victorious.' The girls bought into it and we finished it out."

Highlands plays in the state semifinals on Wednesday against 5th Region champion and All "A" State champion Bardstown Bethlehem (24-2-2) at 8 p.m. at Frederick Douglass back in Lexington. Bethlehem beat Henderson County, 3-2 in double overtime in the state quarterfinals. The state championship is Saturday at 6 p.m. back at Frederick Douglass.

Louisville Sacred Heart (23-1-1) takes on two-time defending state champion West Jessamine (18-4-1) in the first semifinal game. Highlands lost both games against Sacred Heart during the regular season, but won 2-1 at West Jessamine on Sept. 8.

Highlands wound up out-shooting Greenwood, 23-3 including 12-1 on goal. Greenwood junior goalkeeper Elizabeth DeMarse had nine saves while Bluebirds junior goalkeeper Maggie Hinegardner did not have to make any. However, Hinegardner did stop a few crosses in the box.

"Before the game, we were telling them to work, work, work and they did the perfect amount of work," Dean said. "They didn't over-hype it. They didn't do too much. They just did the right amount and that helped us start off on the right foot. We continued to work the perfect amount so that was good."

Greenwood played without its top player in junior midfielder Anna Haddock. Haddock broke her foot during a practice in the post-season. The Auburn University commit had 42 goals and 19 assists for 103 points this season.

The Highlands back line again did a great job stepping to balls and clearing them to the mid-fielders. The mid-fielders again used their speed to push the ball to the forwards for shot opportunities. The next two point-scorers for Greenwood in sophomore mid-fielder Erin Heltsley (23 points on eight goals, seven assists) and senior midfielder Alexa Ketchem (eight goals, six assists for 22 points) had no shots.

"I think that everyone really worked hard," said Maggie Stieby, Highlands sophomore midfield. "I think everyone is just fighting to get to that final game. Everyone is putting whatever they can out there to get a touch and get it to one of the forwards or at least away from the opponents - anything they can do to help the team in any way."

Highlands earned the first goal just 11 minutes, seven seconds into the match. Sophomore forward Kenzie Nehus collected the ball from 25 yards out on the left and finished to the far post. Nehus has 11 goals and eight assists this year for 30 points. Nehus admitted she had a shot earlier in the game, but did not take it.

Nehus and freshman forward Chloe Bramble have older sisters that played on the 2005 and 2006 Highlands state championship teams. Nehus' older sister, Allie Nehus-Hanson, played a critical role on the 2005 state championship team as a senior and Bramble's sister, Amber Barth-Wells, scored the game-winning goal against Sacred Heart in the 2006 title game as a junior.

"Growing up seeing that state title, I've always wanted it," Nehus said. "(My older sisters Allie and Kayla Nehus) just tell me to play my best and play every game like it's my last. Of course, I'm going to try to do that. Putting one in the back of the net kind of helped out too."

Highlands did not have to wait much longer before the second goal. Junior Maria Wiefering dribbled into the box on the left side and drew a foul. Highlands senior Lindsey Meyer nailed the penalty kick to put Highlands up 2-0 just 16:52 into the game.

"Obviously, there's a lot of nerve in it, but you just can't overthink it," Meyer said. "We've practiced them every day going into the postseason just in case we go to penalty kicks. You just pick a spot and go there every time."

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.

Greenwood scored its lone goal with 12:40 left in the first half. The Bluebirds could not clear a ball in the box and junior midfielder Annabel Justice kicked the ball from just outside the 18-foot box into the net on the left side to trim the Highlands lead to 2-1 at halftime. Justice finished the season with five goals and three assists for 13 points.

The only goal of the second half came from the Highlands back line. Senior Gwen Gorman took a very long shot from the right side of the field. It bounced in the box and over DeMarse's head for the goal. Gorman has three goals and five assists for 11 points this season.

Highlands had 13 corner kicks to six for Greenwood. Both teams received one yellow card each.

The Highlands girls beat Woodford County, 1-0 in their last appearance in the state semifinals in 2008. The Bluebirds proceeded to lose 2-0 to Sacred Heart in the state championship game that year. That team was led by the likes of Leslie TwehuesMallory Adler-KeeblerLaurene Wiseman and Laura Bush-Gillespie.

Highlands Boys 3, Daviess County 0:

The Bluebirds (22-1-3 overall) recorded their 16th shut-out of the year with a convincing win pulling away from the Panthers (21-3-1) in the second half. They have outscored opponents, 97-11 this season.
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Daviess County won the state championship two years ago and finished state runner-up last year beating the 9th Region champions along the way. The Panthers beat Ryle, 2-1 in double overtime in the state semifinals last year and Covington Catholic, 2-1 winning the penalty kicks, 6-5.

"I told the guys we're not just representing Highlands anymore," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "We love wearing that H. But we're now representing that whole geographical area. We've got some support just bigger than Fort Thomas. We have all the motivation that we need. The target on our back has grown. It has all year. But our guys have continued to rise to the occasion. I feel it benefited us to get here early, watch the girls and figure out what this whole quarterfinal thing is like, settle, just be fans for a moment, enjoy it then get after it and the boys played really well."

Highlands takes on 2nd Region champion Hopkinsville (19-6-2) at 8 p.m. Thursday in the state semifinals at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington. The championship game is Saturday back at Frederick Douglass at 8 p.m. Defending state champion Louisville St. Xavier (24-2-1) takes on Lexington Henry Clay (12-8-3) in the first semifinal game.

Highlands faced Henry Clay in the third game of the season. The Bluebirds beat the Blue Devils, 2-0 on Aug. 18 in the Lexington Soccer Showcase at Bryan Station.

Highlands out-shot Daviess County, 14-7 including an impressive 6-0 on goal. The Panthers entered the game with seven players with 14 or more points led by senior mid-fieler Brian Winkler's 87 on 35 goals and 17 assists. Daviess County junior goalkeeper Kaya Suzer had three saves.

Niedert said he spoke to several coaches and received similar reports. Daviess County's strength came in the front six. The Bluebirds did what they have done all season defensively clearing a lot of balls and making no mistakes handling the ball. They then took advantage of their height up top after the midfielders played the ball up the field.

"With our back four and (Burnham), we are very technical across the field," Niedert said. "We're not one of those teams that has one strong player. We've got a solid 11. Where we beat them is that we denied most of those chances going forward. I'm proud of what the guys did."

They did not allow any solid shots at senior goalkeeper Will Burnham. Burnham did not have to make any saves. But he still stepped in front of corner kicks and crosses into the box.

"It's a lot about having confidence in yourself, believing you can get the ball and keeping in mind where the attackers are in the middle and also where the man is out wide," Burnham said. "(You believe) you will get there first. You're not going to drop it. I'm really excited for the next game. This is the most important game in my soccer career I've ever played in."

It took a while to dent the scoreboard. But with 4:15 left in the first half, junior Porter Hedenberg took the ball on the left side and found senior 6-foot-5-inch forward Luke Schweitzer in the middle near the top of the box for the finish. That marked the team-high 14th goal this year for Schweitzer and the team-high 13th assist for Hedenberg.

"Basically as soon as I got past the last defender, I just got my head up and saw Luke wide open," Hedenberg said. "We've scored a couple goals just like that. Luckily, I got it to his right foot and it went in."

Also with 11 goals, Hedenberg is tied with sophomore Max Farris with 35 points this year. Schweitzer also has six assists for 34 points good for third.

Senior defender Devin Harris gave the Bluebirds the coveted second goal with 35:43 left in the game. He dribbled to his right and shot from outside the box deflecting into the top corner. Harris has two goals and an assist for five points this year.

"We always do a really good job of getting chances and just finishing a few of them can really set the tone for the rest of the game," Harris said. "I think after we were up one at half, just going and pushing to score the whole second half was really key in solidifying the win."

Senior Carter Holmes gave the Bluebirds another insurance goal with 17:19 left in the game. Holmes scored from 40 yards out spinning and shooting over Suzer's hands making the final score of 3-0. Holmes has 10 goals and five assists for 25 points this year.

Daviess County finished with six corner kicks to three for Highlands. Both teams received two yellow cards.

Highlands beat Henderson County, 2-0 in its last state semifinal appearance 10 years ago. Dean was a sophomore that year along with players such as Bryan Clements and Nick Urlage. The Bluebirds then lost 7-2 to St. Xavier in the state championship game.

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