Bluebirds Meet Valkyries in State Championship Game on Saturday
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Tatum Price heads the ball forward in the state semifinal game Wednesday against Bardstown Bethlehem. Highlands won 3-0.|
But Mother Nature was about the only thing that could slow down the Highland Bluebirds girls soccer team on Wednesday at Frederick Douglass High School's Bronco Stadium in the state semifinals in Lexington. Like the previous two state tournament opponents, the Bluebirds (23-4 overall) used their speed and technical skills to put together another sound victory by a 3-0 count over the Bardstown Bethlehem Banshees (24-3-2). Highlands has won 15 in a row.
"We knew if we put one on the board, we'd have a good chance of winning," said Alex Dean, Highlands Head Coach. "We know our defense is very, very skilled and very disciplined. We got out of position a couple times, but we always had someone to cover."
The win puts the Bluebirds into the last day of the season playing for a state championship at 6 p.m. Saturday back at Frederick Douglass. Highlands has not played for a state championship since 2008.
The Bluebirds will take on a familiar foe in the 7th Region winner Louisville Sacred Heart Valkyries (24-1-1). Sacred Heart handed Highlands two of its four losses during the season winning a shoot-out, 5-4 on Aug. 25 in Fort Thomas before claiming a 2-0 win on Sept. 15 in the Lexington Catholic Cup.
Sacred Heart blanked the West Jessamine, 3-0 in the first semifinal contest. The Colts had beaten the Valkyries on their way to the last two state championships.
Highlands has outscored the opposition, 112-15 on the season including 29-1 in the eight postseason games. The Bluebirds not only achieved their pre-season goal of playing Nov. 3, but also surpassed another goal of 18 shutouts with their 19th one this season.
The Bluebirds shut out a Bethlehem squad that had not been shut out all season and had only been held to two or fewer goals five times this year. The Banshees have outscored the competition, 151-40 on the season.
Senior Maddie Sparks led Bethlehem with 42 goals and 19 assists for 103 points. She had just two shots with one coming on goal. The Banshees' second leading scorer in senior midfielder Abigail Proctor with 28 goals and 22 assists had four shots with three coming on goal.
"(Solid defense) really pays off because they're really good up top," said Abby Stein, Highlands junior midfielder. "I just feel like (it pays off) especially coming from our center defenders like (junior) Lauren Deckert. She really makes a big difference in the game. Communication helps us all work together better."
The Bluebirds out-shot the Banshees, 27-10 including tripling the amount on goal by an 18-6 count. Bethlehem sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Debold made 15 saves compared to six by Highlands junior goalkeeper Maggie Hinegardner.
Bethlehem tried the offsides trap to negate the speed advantage for the Bluebirds like previous opponents have. But Highlands had just four of those calls to two for Bethlehem.
Bethlehem did have some indirect kicks just outside the box. But Highlands successfully cleared them each time. The Bluebirds had six corner kicks to three for the Banshees.
Senior Lindsey Meyer had a hand in all three goals recording two assists and a goal for four points. Junior Maria Broering had the first two goals. Broering has nine goals and an assist on the season for 19 points and Meyer holds team-highs of 28 goals and 16 assists for 72 points.
"It was a complete team effort," Broering said. "Without our defense and our midfield to our strikers and our keepers, we could not be here without anyone. If there was any weakness in our team, we would not be where we are today. It's having everyone play their hardest and play their A game. Our hard work has really paid off."
Meyer inched closer to 200 points for her career. Her school record-setting totals stand at 75 goals and 45 assists for 195 points.
It took a while for the Bluebirds to break the ice. But with 11:33 left in the first half, Meyer took the ball on the left side and crossed it to Broering on the right side for the score giving Highlands a 1-0 advantage it would hold at halftime.
Broering's second goal came with 36:10 left in the game. Meyer shot one from the right and Broering put in the rebound to put Highlands up 2-0.
"It was a lot less stressful (with the lead)," said Tatum Price, Highlands junior midfielder. "We felt like we could sit back and keep distributing the ball from the defense to the offense."
Meyer's goal came with 26:26 left in the game. Sophomore forward Kenzie Nehus played a long through ball through the middle and Meyer touched it home to make the final score of 3-0. Nehus has 11 goals and nine assists on the season for 31 points.
"On our third goal, Lindsey made a great run and beat the offsides trap," Dean said. "We really worked on that through ball (Wednesday) and got a couple chances. It's going to be a little different Saturday."
Looking at Sacred Heart:
The Valkyries have outscored opponents, 131-14 on the season. They have won 16 straight and have 17 shutouts on the season so this could be a low-scoring game.
Like Highlands, Sacred Heart has a new head coach in Libbey Smith. Smith came over to Sacred Heart after serving at Oldham County in the same role for two seasons. But the Valkyries keep on rolling.
"It just says a lot about the kids and the fact that they are willing to do whatever it takes for the team," Smith said. "So it just speaks volumes to their willingness to work. I think it's definitely going to be a tough game. Everybody that makes it to the final is going to be a competitor so we just have to focus on playing our game and not letting anyone else's style get in our heads."
Sacred Heart won its first eight games of the season before the Christian Academy of Louisville tied the Valkyries, 0-0 on Sept. 6. Simon Kenton beat Sacred Heart, 2-1 on penalty kicks to open the Lexington Catholic Cup for the Valkyries' lone loss of the season.
Seniors Ashley Durik and Brielle Heuglin lead the Valkyries in scoring. Durik, a Cornell University commit, has 30 goals and nine assists for 69 points including two goals in the shoot-out in Fort Thomas. Heuglin, a Bellarmine University commit, has 15 goals and 10 assists for 40 points. Heuglin scored a goal in each of the two meetings during the regular season. Sophomore Amanda Isaacs is the goalkeeper for Sacred Heart.
"We're just going to treat it like every game," Heuglin said. "We .can't go in thinking we're going to win any game. We have to just play to the best of our ability and for the team. It's not just one person on the team."
Dean said the game could be similar to the 9th Region championship against Notre Dame. The Bluebirds won it 1-0 to end Notre Dame's seven-year run of region championships.
"They win every ball out of the air," Dean said. "Prior to the season, that was one of the things we were kind of skeptical on, but we've improved over the year. The first time we played them, we weren't winning those balls and they were getting chances off them so hopefully on Saturday, we can limit their chances, especially by winning those balls out of the air."
Sacred Heart has won four straight meetings since Highlands beat top-ranked Sacred Heart, 1-0 in the opening round of the Lexington Catholic Cup on Sept. 12, 2016. The Valkyries had won five straight in the series prior to that Highlands win dating back to 2006 including a 2-0 victory in the 2008 state championship game.
Highlands knocked off Sacred Heart, 1-0 in the 2006 state championship. Freshman Chloe Bramble's sister, Amber Barth-Wells, scored the lone goal of that game with one minute and one second left in regulation.
"(Wells said) Every last inch counts and work (hard) until the final buzzer," Bramble said. "You can't give up on the ball ever. Sacred Heart is an amazing team. (The Valkyries) have won countless times so we really have to bring our A game."
Sacred Heart owns five state championships good for second in the state all-time behind South Oldham's seven crowns. Notre Dame is third with three with Highlands, West Jessamine and Male claiming two each.
Link to Game Stats: