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Sunday, October 27, 2019

Highlands Girls Soccer Headed Back to Lexington

Bluebirds Take Care of Business in Penalty Kicks Again

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior goalkeeper Maggie Hinegardner made her season debut Saturday in the second half of the state quarterfinals against Lexington Catholic. She made five saves in the Highlands victory.
For the second time this week in the state tournament, the Highlands Bluebirds girls soccer team had to go to penalty kicks to advance.

Unlike the semi-state win at West Jessamine on Tuesday that had to go seven rounds, the 9th Region champion Bluebirds (19-3-5 overall) took care of things quickly in this one against the 11th Region champion Lexington Catholic Lady Knights (in the 2-1 victory. Highlands did not have to take the full five shots to win the penalty kicks winning them 4-1.

They advanced to the state semifinals for the second straight year as a result. The Bluebirds earned a rematch of last year's state championship game against Louisville Sacred Heart (24-1-2) on Thursday in Lexington. Sacred Heart won the state championship, 2-1 last year and also won by that score during the regular season in Louisville on Oct. 5.

The Bluebirds saw senior Maria Broering and junior Kenzie Nehus score on the first two penalty kicks. Senior defender Lauren Deckert again defended in goal and blocked the first shot before the the second Lexington Catholic shooter hit one above the crossbar.

"Just like in a game, getting that lead is crucial," said Alex Dean, Highlands Head Coach. "It builds confidence for our goalie Deckert and our PK takers. Going first and making the first one was huge then getting that save and kind of taking the pressure off Kenzie to get a second and she put it in. It was nice being able to see that."

Deckert then hit her penalty kick to give Highlands a commanding 3-0 lead. But Lexington Catholic freshman Kylie May Stephenson hit her penalty kick to extend the game to a fourth round.

That's when junior Maggie Stieby stepped up for Highlands. She made her penalty kick to finish the job.

"I was definitely a little nervous," Stieby said. "I've never taken a PK obviously in high school season. But we've practiced PKs basically every single day and my teammates support me no matter what so I knew that I had to be confident in myself, just stay calm and just finish it. I was high on life (after the score). I've never felt so happy and seeing (my teammates) all running toward me was absolutely incredible. I hope we can continue to do that."

Lexington Catholic had 13 shots to eight for Highlands including 10 on goal to six for the Bluebirds. Senior Rylee Thomas played in goal in the first half and made four saves. But Highlands senior goalkeeper Maggie Hinegardner made her season debut and had five saves. Junior Kalee Opalka had five saves for LexCath at goal.

"I was definitely nervous, but I'd be nervous with any game," Hinegardner said. "It's so nice to be back on the field and my teammates and coaches are supportive. I couldn't be any happier."

Highlands had to overcome some adversity to win this game. The Lady Knights drew a penalty to the left of the attacking box with 11:35 left in the game and scored.

But the Bluebirds tied the game just two minutes later. On a scramble in the box, Highlands junior Greta Noble put in a rebound for her fifth of the season.

"Once they scored, we knew we had to come back with more fire and more energy," said Kenzie Nehus, Highlands junior. "That's exactly what we did. We all pushed up and followed. We got that goal and it was a great feeling. But we had to come back with more. Even though we didn't score, we ended up finishing at the end."

LexCath had two players with double-digit goals on the season. Sophomore Emily Scanlon came in with 13 and junior Bailey Stephenson had had 11.

"Sometimes we worry about certain players," Dean said. "But we saw that they were collectively pretty sound so we didn't hone in on any one certain player."

The other semifinal pairs 4th Region champion Greenwood against 16th Region champion Ashland Blazer. Highlands beat Greenwood, 3-1 in the state quarterfinals last year. But the Lady Gators did not have their standout in Auburn University commit Anna Haddock.

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