Both soccer teams sought a "double date" there for the state tournaments and achieved them with 36th District, 9th Region then semi-state championships. Both teams won those titles in different fashions. Highlands is the lone school that has both soccer teams remaining in the state tournament.
The games take place at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. at Paul Laurence Dunbar in Lexington. The Highlands girls (21-4 overall) take on the 4th Region champion Greenwood Lady Gators (17-2-3) in the first game before the Highlands boys (21-1-3) face the 3rd Region champion Daviess County Panthers (21-2-1) in the second game.
"We're going to be there to support them. We know they're going to be there to support us," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Boys Head Coach. "I think that in addition to just the players, you have all the different families and everybody else. We're looking forward to having the community support."
Highlands survived a 1-0 win over Newport Central Catholic on the rugged terrain of Morscher Field in the 36th District championship before holding off the seven-time defending champion Notre Dame Pandas in the 9th Region title game at Ryle by the same score. Highlands handled 10th Region champion George Rogers Clark at Tower Park in the Semi-State Game 5 with few problems recording a 4-0 victory Monday.
"We just need to make sure that we keep on the attack once we get a lead," said Maria Broering, Highlands junior forward. "If we put one in early, we can't let up on the intensity. In the post-season, one goal doesn't mean anything. We always have to play with the mindset that we are down 1-0 no matter what the score is."
The Highlands girls have outscored their six post-season opponents, 23-0. Highlands has 18 shut-outs on the season including 10 in a row and has outscored the opposition, 106-14 overall. The Bluebirds have played solid defense in front of junior goalkeepers Maggie Hinegardner and Rylee Thomas led by the likes of defenders such as seniors Hannah Hartman, Gwen Gorman, juniors Lauren Deckert, Katelynn Helminiak, Natalie Ossege and Parker Price. Midfielders such as senior Hanna Buecker, juniors Kelsey Mathis, Abby Stein, Amy Herfel and sophomore Maggie Stieby have consistently won 50/50 balls and played them forward allowing the Bluebirds to go on the attack.
The strong Highlands forwards have consistently made things happen all season. Senior Lindsey Meyer leads the Bluebirds in scoring with 26 goals and 14 assists for 66 points. She scored two goals and tallied an assist in the win over George Rogers Clark. Her Highlands record-breaking career totals stand at 73 goals and 43 assists for 189 points.
But Highlands has seen nine different players score 10 or more points this season. Junior forward Maria Wiefering has 17 goals and nine assists for 43 points and sophomore Kenzie Nehus has 10 goals and eight assists for 28 points. The versatile Deckert (five goals, six assists) and sophomore Greta Noble (three goals, 10 assists) have 16 points each and Broering has seven goals and an assist for 15 points.
Junior Jordan Halpin has four goals and six assists for 14 points and junior Tatum Price has one goal and eight assists for 10 points. Freshman forward Chloe Bramble has emerged during the season scoring the lone goal in the 9th Region championship against Notre Dame. Bramble has five goals and three assists for 13 points.
Highlands has not lost since dropping a 2-1 game against Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Ursula. The Bluebirds have won 13 in a row allowing just two goals during the winning streak. The Bluebirds ventured to Lexington three times in six days for the annual Lexington Catholic Cup they've played in for years. They went 1-2 in it this year.
"It's kind of a tradition," Dean said. "That is really what helped get us prepared for the post-season going down on a Wednesday, which we play on a Wednesday (most) every year down in Lexington, which is hopefully what we can do next Wednesday. It is definitely a different feeling than just going to like a Ryle, which is like a 30-minute trip. That hour, hour and a half trip is a little bit draining on you mentally. You hate sitting on a bus then you get off the bus and are a little more tired than usual."
Greenwood has outscored opponents, 108-18 this year recording 10 shut-outs. Their leading scorer is junior midfielder and Auburn University commit Anna Haddock with 42 goals and 19 assists for 103 points. But Haddock has not played since the 3-2 loss to Bowling Green in the 14th District championship game.
But Greenwood has seen 10 different players score at least 10 points. The next leading scorers are senior midfielders Rachel Heltsley with eight goals and seven assists for 23 points and Alexa Ketchem with eight goals and six assists for 22 points.
"It's not a lot. But they have girls that can score," Dean said. "They're still a threat to contend for a title."
Greenwood's only two losses came to Bowling Green. The Purples beat the Lady Gators, 3-1 during the regular season on Sept. 13 and the district championship before Greenwood edged the Purples, 1-0 on penalty kicks in the region championship. Junior goalkeeper Elizabeth DeMarse came up huge in the region championship and in the Semi-State 2 win over Owensboro Catholic in a 2-1 win on penalty kicks both times.
The teams have one common opponent in two-time defending state champion West Jessamine. Highlands beat the Colts, 2-1 at West Jessamine on Sept. 8 and Greenwood tied West Jessamine, 1-1 in Bowling Green on Sept. 23.
Highlands hopes for a strong start in the first half scoring at least once then to win the second half. The Bluebirds did both against George Rogers Clark and Notre Dame. In a 2-0 win over St. Henry in the region semifinals, Highlands did not score until the second half.
Highlands is 1-2 against teams remaining in the state tournament. The Bluebirds lost twice to 7th Region winner Sacred Heart by 5-4 and 2-0 scores on Aug. 25 at Tower Park and Sept. 25 in the Lexington Catholic Cup respectively.
The Bluebirds charged out of the gate in the post-season continuing the solid play shown in the regular season. They dominated Newport Central Catholic (6-0) to win their third straight 36th District championship before soundly defeating St. Henry (9-0) and Cooper (4-0) in the first two round of the 9th Region Tournament.
The Bluebirds have allowed more than one goal in a game once this year. It came in a 2-2 tie at East Central (Indiana) on Sept. 18. Highlands played in front of big crowds at Covington Catholic and Highlands Director of Athletics Kevin Nieporte estimated about 1,000 people attended the game Tuesday against Montgomery County.
Niedert admitted the scenes in the region championship and semi-state games as well as the state tournament are hard to simulate during the regular season. But he said those experiences in the last two games will hopefully come into play Saturday.
"Now we're a little bit more used to it," Niedert said. "We know that we're good enough to beat Daviess County. On paper, we actually probably are the favorites. It's just a matter of if we come and bring our A game. We've been dangerous the entire year. The one game we lost and our few ties, we didn't play poorly. We just didn't play 80 minutes solid. If we play 80 minutes solid, we're going to be in great shape."
Highlands has shut out 15 opponents this year outscoring opponents, 94-11 on the season. This includes 23-2 in the post-season with three shutouts. The Bluebirds have won eight in a row overall.
"I think our defense is just like the backbone of our team," said Alexander Foubert, Highlands junior. "Having a solid defense just helps us stay in games longer, especially (against Montgomery County) when our offense was struggling. We eventually were able to pull through and win."
Montgomery County scored its only goal just six minutes, 10 seconds into the game. Senior forward Daniel Shelton hit a corner kick from the left that curved into the goal for the Indians. Foubert said he was defending the front post, but lost the ball in the lights. But Foubert called that goal an anomoly and expects the Bluebirds to be fine going forward.
Highlands will start the game in the daylight assuming it starts on time. Sundown has come about a quarter before 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time lately.
The Bluebirds had 43 shots including 15 on goal compared to 10 shots with four on goal for the Indians. Montgomery County senior goalkeeper Danny Hernandez had 13 saves giving the Indians a chance at the end.
"We want to finesse (the ball) a little bit more," Niedert said. "It's hard to focus on that when we're creating so many opportunities. It's a matter of if we continue to create chances, we're going to be successful regardless of if we're finishing with a high success rate or not. Hopefully, we have three games left. We know the time is precious and we need to get after it."
Highlands six players that have scored 22 points or more this year. Sophomore Max Farris leads the way with 35 points on 12 goals and 11 assists. He had the game-winning assist on a corner kick against Montgomery County. Senior forward Luke Schweitzer scored both goals against the Indians. He is third on the team in points with 32 on 13 goals and six assists.
Junior Porter Hedenberg has done well setting up goal all season. He is second in points with 11 goals and 12 assists on the year. The other three double-digit scorers for the Bluebirds are junior forward Caymon Stevie with 29 points (13 goals, three assists), senior Carter Holmes with 23 (nine goals, five assists) and senior forward Cary Gorrigan with 22 (10 goals, two assists).
Daviess County has won five straight entering the game after losing 3-1 at home against 4th Region champion South Warren in the final game of the regular season. But the Panthers came back to beat the Spartans, 3-1 in the Semi-State 2 contest at home on Tuesday.
Daviess County won both the 9th District and region championships with convincing wins over Owensboro High. The Panthers beat the Red Devils four times this season. Daviess County beat defending state champion Covington Catholic, 2-1 by a 6-5 score on penalty kicks to win the state championship in 2016 and lost 3-0 to Louisville St. Xavier in the state championship last year.
Highlands faced the same situation against Covington Catholic in the region semifinals at Tower Park last year. The Bluebirds won 1-0 on penalty kicks.
"In the past, we've risen to the occasion and we talked just briefly (Wednesday) at training," Niedert said. "Truthfully, we probably have a little bit stronger team offensively now than we had last year."
Highlands will face a team that has outscored opponents, 126-27 this season. The Panthers have seven players that have scored 26 or more points. Senior midfielder Brian Winkler leads the way with 35 goals and 17 assists for 87 points and junior forward Jacob Boling has 27 goals and 16 assists for 70 points. The next two scorers for Daviess County are senior forward Maxten Miller with 16 goals and 19 assists for 51 points and sophomore forward Hunter Clark with 16 goals and 10 assists for 42 points.
Daviess County has nine shut-outs this year. The Panther goalkeeper is junior Kaya Suza.
But it's been hard to get things by Highlands senior goalkeeper Will Burnham in addition to defenders such as seniors Will Hochleutner, Drew Cavacini, Garrett Crowe, Alex Ford, Devin Harris and junior Ford Orem this year. Midfielders such as senior Keegan Brewer, Mike Penrod and junior Elijah Stevie have also done well winning balls in the midfield and playing them to the forwards.
"I'm really confident in our back line," Niedert said. "Their strength is they create a lot of chances to score a lot of goals. Our best way to defend that is to make sure they're spending time defending us. When it comes down to it, we have a bunch of backs and a goalkeeper that have done a really good job all year of keeping the ball out of the back of our net. So if we continue to thrive where we've been successful all year, I think we're going to be in good shape."
Highlands and Daviess County have two common opponents. Both are from the 8th Region in Oldham County and Simon Kenton. Both played Daviess County in the Panther Classic on Sept. 15. Daviess County lost 2-1 to Oldham County before beating Simon Kenton, 5-1.
The Bluebirds beat both opponents. Highlands beat Oldham County, 6-1 at home on Aug. 23 and won 2-0 at Simon Kenton on Sept. 1.
Highlands is 1-0 against the seven other teams remaining in the tournament. The Bluebirds beat 11th Region champion Lexington Henry Clay, 2-0 on Aug. 18 in the Lexington Soccer Showcase at Bryan Station.
The state semifinal and championship games will be at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington. The girls semifinal games take place on Wednesday, Oct. 31 and the boys semifinals take place on Thursday, Nov. 1. The times are both 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The championship games take place Saturday, Nov. 3. The girls play at 6 p.m. and the boys go at 8 p.m.
Directions to Dunbar High School:
|Roofing, siding, gutters, painting.|
- Head South on I-471
- Go West on I-275
- Go South on I-71/75
- Stay South on I-75 near Walton
- Take Exit 115 (KY-922/Newtown Pike) going toward the Lexington Airport.
- Go 1.59 miles then go West on New Circle Road (Kentucky Highway 4).
- Go 6.62 miles then go West on Exit 2 (Shakertown Road/Harrodsburg Road/US 68 West) toward Harrodsburg.
- Go 1.62 miles then take a right on Man O' War Boulevard.
- Go 1.07 miles then take a U-Turn going the other direction. (If you reach Beaumont Centre Lane, you've gone too far.)
- Go .07 miles and Dunbar High School is on the right at 1600 Man O' War Boulevard. (If you reach Fort Harrods Drive, you've gone .2 miles too far).
Directions provided via Mapquest.