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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Bluebirds Enter Final Month of Regular Season

Highlands Aims to Carry Good Habits into Post-Season

PHOTO: Bob Jackson. Highlands senior Zoie Barth attacks the rim hard in the win at Walton-Verona on Monday. Barth is currently ranked in the top five in school history in career points (2,096), assists (431) and steals (419). But Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey said she'd exchange all that for a region championship.
District, Region and even state championships may not be won during the regular season.

But developing good habits and earning the best possible seeds for the district tournament during the regular season can pay off during the postseason for high school basketball teams. Extending or breaking streaks along the way also helps with confidence. The Highlands Bluebirds basketball teams have seen many positives there entering the final month of the regular season. Both teams last won the 9th Region crowns in 2001.

Before reaching the post-season, the Highlands girls (15-4 overall) would not mind extending two impressive streaks. The Bluebirds have recorded six straight seasons with 22 or more wins including a 30-4 mark during the 2014-15 season and have won 26 straight against 36th District opponents, which has led to four consecutive district championships.

Next on the schedule is a home game against the Cooper Lady Jaguars(2-13), which is struggling after the graduation of Lexi Held and Asyah Mitchell. Eighth grade guard Whitney Lind led the Jaguars averaging 14.1 points per game going into the 71-37 loss at Ryle on Tuesday.

"They're young and they're learning to play together," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "They have a couple eighth graders that are seeing some varsity minutes. (Cooper Head Coach) Nicole (Levandusky) does a great job with them so they'll come prepared and give us a good game. The girls understand Highlands is a big game on a lot of peoples' schedules so we have to be ready to go no matter what their record is."

Highlands turns around and plays again Friday at Campbell County (10-7). Both games start at 7:30 p.m. The Bluebirds beat the Lady Camels, 53-52 in overtime in Fort Thomas last year. Campbell County came into that game with just one loss and a top-three ranking in the state.

Highlands senior guard Zoie Barth has been as consistent in her sixth season in the varsity rotation. Barth has 330 points this season for an average of 18.3 per game and 5.2 rebounds. Barth has 2,096 for her career to go with 419 steals and 431 assists. Barth ranks fourth in school history in scoring, third in steals and fifth in assists.

"Zoie is a next-game mentality lady. She's going to do what it takes for the team to win," Richey said. "If it's making the extra pass to a teammate that's going to have a lay-up, she'd rather do that than have to score. We'll treat it like another game and see what she gets. Zoie had no clue how close she was to 2,000 points until maybe the day before. Zoie is not about getting in the record books. She'd trade it all in for the regional title."

Her brother Zach Barth, a freshman, dresses for the varsity and has seen some action. He said his sister has been a great role model for him.

"I'm just going to try to live up to the expectations and work hard trying to help the boys team as much as my sister's helped the girls team," Zach Barth said. "She doesn't take plays off. I'm going to try to do that."

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As a team, Highlands has made 384-of-860 shots for 45 percent including 115-of-326 three-point shots for 35 percent. The Bluebirds have also made 235-of-325 free throws for 72 percent and average 27 rebounds per game.

Junior Piper Macke is second on the team averaging 9.8 rebounds per game with senior Chloe Jansen and sophomore Rory O'Hara averaging 7.5 and 7.2 respectively. Seniors Ashley Hayes, Hanna Buecker and junior Maggie Hinegardner have also had double-digit games in the last couple weeks.

"Every practice, we go in and work hard every day," Zoie Barth said. "We know we have to practice how we play and just continue to really emphasize the little things and that every possession matters. It doesn't matter who we're playing. We need to capitalize on playing defense, getting rebounds, eliminating our turnovers, playing as a team. Those are all aspects of our game that you have to work on throughout the regular season so we can take them over to the post-season and hopefully, successfully use them."

The Highlands boys (10-9) have broken losing streaks against Covington Holmes (17 straight) and defending state champion Covington Catholic (eight) this year. The Bluebirds trailed by just two entering the third quarter Tuesday before losing 52-41 for an eighth straight time to 2017 state runner-up Cooper. The 9th Region winner has gone to at least the state semifinals five years in a row.

"We believe each and every day we can compete with every single team we step out on the floor with," said Austin King, Highlands senior. "We just prepare ourselves, trust what the coaches say, come to practice ready to get to work and we'll live with the outcome."

Highlands has a chance to break an eight-game losing streak against Dixie Heights (6-12) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Fort Thomas. Highlands last beat the Red Colonels, 48-39 on Dec. 15, 2009. Dixie Heights is led by seniors Jabari Karim and Jaimin Shumate.

"They were picked in the top four in the region so they're a very good ball club," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "They have a little bit of size. They have two really nice athletes, a couple shooters so they have pieces to be really, really good. Friday night is going to be a big challenge for us. We're going to have to answer the bell."

Highlands then faces Newport Central Catholic (9-8) and Bellevue in its final two district seed games this year. The Bluebirds have lost 16 straight and 18 of the last 19 meetings against the Thoroughbreds dating back to the last Highlands district championship in 2008.

Listerman said the Bluebirds hope to be more efficient down the stretch in games. Defense kept Highlands in the game against Cooper.

"The biggest thing is making sure we mark shooters," Listerman said. "We have to be able to mix it up. It's part of our growth as a team to be able to play both man and zone. It's just a process with our guys getting comfortable with it."

Highlands senior Ben Sisson just eclipsed the 300-point total on the season. He is averaging 16 points a game and senior Ryan Leigh is averaging just more than 11.

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