|Bluebirds Make First-Half Lead Stand|
|Highlands sophomore Jade Rehberger (6) clears the ball on a corner kick while senior goalkeeper Rylee Thomas (pink) get in position and Tatum Price (5) and Greta Noble (2) watch.|
|The Highlands girls soccer team celebrated a second straight region championship with a 2-1 win over Notre Dame on Saturday. The Bluebirds travel to West Jessamine on Tuesday for the Semi-State 5 game at 7 p.m.|
The Highlands Bluebirds girls soccer team took the lead over the arch-rivals for good with just 13:12 left in the first half.
From that point, it became a matter of making it to halftime. Then the seconds in the second half took what seemed like an eternity at times on the grass at St. Henry.
"We kind of did what we did last year, but we did it a little bit earlier," said Alex Dean, Highlands Head Coach. "It probably wasn't the smartest move. I know our coaches probably didn't want me to do it. But I listened to them and adjusted a little bit. I knew it was going to be just kind of sitting back and surviving. Our girls have been doing it all year. If we clog the middle, (opponents) are not going to get a great chance. They might score off a half-chance. But we're not going to give them much of a chance if we're defensive and we make sure we cover everything."
Dean knows teen-agers need to be held accountable. But he's thankful for assistants Olivia Huber, Nina Kearns, Kelsey Etherton and his father and assistant Joe Dean for helping out there.
"Being a male, you definitely know you can coach boys and girls differently," Alex Dean said. "It's having them understand at the beginning of the year that it's building throughout the year. We want you and our team to succeed. Everything we say is to make you better and make our team better. (On Saturday), the coaches got on some girls more than we ever have. But that was because we wanted it so bad for them and they responded after that happened. If something happens, it's always squashed right after the conversation. They love us and they know that we love them."
A huge key to this rivalry game is finding a way to not get rattled. Tensions seem to rise when the two teams play. But that's where senior leadership often comes in.
Senior defender Tatum Price has seen varsity action all four years of high school. Highlands went 5-3-1 against Nore Dame while the seniors have been in high school.
"We made sure of that a lot," Price said. "We had talks before and during the game in huddles to make sure that everyone was calm and just kept fighting hard like we always do."
The Bluebirds travel south to face the four-time 12th Region champion West Jessamine Lady Colts (16-6-2) on Tuesday. Game time is 7 p.m.
"We have to make sure that we prepare for them and that we give it all we got," Alex Dean said. "I know that the seniors want to go out on top because they remember last year (losing 2-1 to Louisville Sacred Heart in the state title game), but we have to take it one step at a time. It's going to be tough traveling there on Tuesday. But we have to do what we have to do."
Highlands and West Jessamine did not meet in the regular season unlike previous years. But the Lady Colts won consecutive state championships in 2017 and 2016 before losing to Louisville Sacred Heart in the state semifinals last year.
Highlands won by the slimmest margin last year on its way to finishing state runner-up. The teams tied each other to open the season, 1-1 at Tower Park on Aug. 19. But the Pandas beat the Bluebirds, 3-2 in the title game of the Lexington Catholic Lady Knights Challenge Cup on Sept. 14.
Notre Dame wound up taking 12 shots to 11 for Highlands and both teams finished with eight shots on goal unofficially. Bluebirds senior goalkeeper Rylee Thomas made three saves and Notre Dame sophomore goalkeeper Abigail Breeze finished with five.
The Pandas did take eight corner kicks to four for the Bluebirds. But Highlands did a good job clearing them.
Notre Dame had two players with double-digit goals this season. The were sophomore midfielder Macie Feldman with 15 and junior midfielder Lauren Carothers with 14.
"The most important thing was just staying behind the ball," said Greta Noble, Highlands junior defender. "They have some really great midfielder, but out defense is solid and can shut them down as long as we play it simple and play it fast like we know we can."
The game had its physical moments as usual. Highlands had four fouls to three for Notre Dame. But the only yellow card of the game came against the Pandas. An injury timeout took place with a Panda down with 4:49 left in the game.
Highlands scored the game's first goal with just 27:16 left in the game. Senior Maria Broering took the ball at the left side for the score on a ball that came in from the right of the goal. That marked the 13th goal of the season for Broering.
But Notre Dame tied the game with 16:40 left in the half. Junior Natalie Schuh fired a cross that deflected off a Highlands player and into the net for the score. That marked Shuh's sixth goal of the season.
But a familiar face scored the game-winner for the Bluebirds in sophomore Chloe Bramble. Senior Kelsey Mathis fired the ball up to her and she hit one past Breeze and another Notre Dame defender for the score. That marked Bramble's team-high 15th goal and Mathis' first assist. Bramble scored the game's lone goal in the 1-0 region title win over Notre Dame last year.
"When the ball came in, I knew that we were playing on grass and this grass is really bumpy," Bramble said. "So when I saw the ball coming in, I knew it was going to be skipping and I saw the goalkeeper coming out. I was just hoping if I somehow got a touch on it, it would somehow miss her when it was coming in sliding and it did."
Senior midfielder Parker Price won the tournament's most valuable player award. Bramble, senior defender Lauren Deckert and sophomore midfielder Faith Broering made the all-tournament team.
The key for the Bluebirds has been scoring against the Pandas in the region tournament. In the previous four meetings in region tournament between 2013 and 2016 with the 2013 and 2016 games coming in the region championship and the other two in region semifinal games, the Pandas outscored the Bluebirds by a combined 8-0.