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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Highlands Volleyball Season Ends in Region Semifinals

Bluebirds Unable to Solve 9th Region Wall

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. The Highlands Bluebirds volleyball team gathers before the third set against Notre Dame in the 9th Region semifinals on Tuesday at Boone County. The great season for the Bluebirds ended at 29-8 overall.
The Highlands Bluebirds volleyball team (29-8 overall) put together a season to remember.

In the 9th Region semifinals at Boone County on Tuesday, Highlands put up a solid fight against the Notre Dame Pandas (27-11). But the Pandas proved to be too much winning the match 3-0 (25-15, 25-17, 25-8).

Thus the careers of the seniors for Highlands came to an end. Setter Audrey Graves, outside hitter Casey Dunn and middle blocker Ava Hockney started for three years and helped pave the way for 79 wins and just 30 losses in the past three seasons.

Senior defensive specialist Rylee Kirschenbaum saw some action on varsity as a sophomore, but saw more action as a junior and senior. She stepped into the libero role this year. Senior Brooke Biltz played varsity for two years. A sixth senior in Navaeh Votel had played on junior varsity and younger teams, but decided to stick around as a team manager this year.

"I just shared with them in (the locker room after the game), this class is incredibly special to me, but also to Highlands volleyball what they have established in the culture of winning, of loving each other through that, just being an incredible group of teammates," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "They have set that standard and it will not be forgotten. That's going to be the mold of Highlands volleyball. This is a tough one for the team. It's a tough one for me personally to watch them walk away."

Notre Dame and St. Henry have won region championships for years. They became part of the 9th Region in 2003 and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association changed the volleyball regions to be more like basketball in 2012 shifting Highlands from the old 10th Region to the rugged 9th.

A number of the public schools have tried to break the wall over the years in the 9th Region. But St. Henry and Notre Dame will once again meet for the region championship at 7 p.m. Wednesday back at Boone County.

The main challengers in recent years have been the Cooper Lady Jaguars and the Ryle Lady Raiders. Cooper has lost to St. Henry, 3-1 in the semifinals two years in a row. Dixie Heights took Notre Dame to five sets in the region semifinals last year.

Highlands hung tough with Notre Dame in the first game. It was tied 9-9 before the Pandas pulled away.

The balanced Pandas attack a number of different ways. When the ball arrives to senior setter Grace Ward, she passes to a number of hitters such as juniors Anna Long and Emma Grace. The Pandas continuously find holes on the other side of the court.

"They ran an incredibly fast offense and they're bigger and faster than us," Sallee said. "We knew that we could handle the way they hit the ball. But the speed at which they were delivering the ball was hard for us. There were several points in that match that we were playing ball-for-ball with them. But over the stretch of a three-set match, it was hard to keep up."

Notre Dame did have some problems with sophomore left-handed middle blocker CC Shick. But Highlands could not get her or the other hitters enough touches.

"Notre Dame came out strong and was on fire the entire game," Shick said. "But we learned from this and we're going to come out stronger next year."

Highlands hit .030 in the match connecting for 17 kills on 101 attempts and 14 errors in the match. Hockney led the way with seven kills. Dunn had five and Shick had three. The Bluebirds managed to land just one ace by Graves and Shick had the lone Highlands block. Graves also had all 17 assists.

The Bluebirds dug up 39 balls. Kirschenbaum had 11 digs with Dunn recording nine. Graves, Biltz and sophomore defensive specialist Madison Clore had six each.

Highlands will build around Shick, Clore, junior setter/outside hitter Laura Winkler and sophomore hitter Lauren Buemi next year. Junior setter Maria Little and sophomore hitters Sophia Sarakatsannis and Nicole Ossege also figure to have bigger roles. Highlands will also pull up others from the junior varsity team that won the Cupcake Classic.




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