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Thursday, May 7, 2020

Highlands Spring Sports Cancelled Amid Pandemic

Highlands Coaches Frustrated for Seniors

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Abby Rust stands ready for the pitch in a game last season. The Coronavirus 2019 pandemic forced the cancellation of spring sports this year.

Highlands senior catcher and second baseman Brittney Johnson recently rode past Winkler Field where the Bluebirds play their home softball games.

Johnson could not help but think the Bluebirds originally had a game at Simon Kenton scheduled that day. But that game and none of the other games for the Highlands spring teams will take place this year as a result of the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic.

"It's been quite upsetting," Johnson said. "We worked really hard in the off-season. I feel like it's gone to waste for this season. I think everybody is just heartbroken with everything that's happening. There is nothing we can control or do about it."

Johnson was one of four seniors on the roster that expected to have huge roles this spring. Outfielder Kendall Murray is also on the team but would not have been able to play this year as a result of injuries. The other three are outfielder Abby Rust, third baseman/second baseman/shortstop Taylar Lorenzen and Kerigan Bailey who expected to play first base, third base and outfield.

"All of them probably had a reason for this to be important. Brittney Johnson certainly because she was finally going to get to play a whole lot," said Milt Horner, Highlands Head Coach. "Taylar has gone through a whole lot since the season ended and I think this was going to be kind of a redemption season for her. She didn't get to do that. Kerigan worked her tail off over the winter to get better and better. I think she was going to get to play regularly for the first time. Abby was trying to carry on the Rust tradition. Her brother (Kyle) had a great (baseball) career."

Lorenzen will be playing softball in college. She is committed to play for the NCAA Division III Muskingum University Fighting Muskies of the Ohio Athletic Conference. It is located in New Concord (Ohio) just outside of Zanesville, which is located just less than an hour east of Columbus.

Horner had been an assistant with the program for a while and was entering his first season as head coach. The Bluebirds finished 16-11 last year losing a tough 4-3 decision to eventual 9th Region champion Dixie Heights in the region semifinals. Highlands also claimed a second straight 36th District title.

Horner said he felt like the Bluebirds had the best team in the region. They returned two pitchers with at least three years of varsity experience in sophomore Gracie Schlosser and freshman Kennedy Baioni. Freshman Carly Cramer pitched one game last year and figured to see a lot of time on the mound.

"We worked really hard. We had 65 off-season workouts between beginning of school and Feb. 15," Horner said. "Several girls attended 90 percent of those workouts just to give you an idea of how hard those girls worked. They were into it. To have it pulled away from them was hugely disappointing."

The Highlands baseball team came into the season with more high expectations. The Bluebirds have been to six straight 9th Region championship games. They lost to Beechwood last year ending a run of four straight region championships finishing 29-10.

The Bluebirds had six players on the roster including shortstop and University of Kentucky commit Ethan Kavanagh. They other five are second baseman/shortstop Nate Gesenhues, third baseman/pitcher Brennan Haigis, pitcher Collin Hollingsworth, third baseman/catcher/pitcher Mason Schwalbach and pitcher/third baseman/outfielder Luke Weidner.

"It happened really quickly and the main message to the guys was worry about things we can control and we can't control these," said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. "It's not something happening just to our school to our kids. It's impacting everyone and it's for the betterment of everyone. We're not going to blame anyone. We're not going to complain about anything. We're going to do what we're told because we're rule followers. That's what we do. Our kids have been great, though. They understand it's bigger than them."

Hollingsworth still earned a baseball scholarship as a pitcher for the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers of NCAA Division II's Gulf South Conference. He did not pitch last year because of a football injury.

The Chargers were 16-5 before the season was cancelled as the result of the pandemic. Hollingsworth wants to major in Aerospace Engineering and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is in the same city.

"It's a huge relief. I was really looking forward to this year," Hollingsworth said. "Things happen and you can't really do much about it. I got to meet some of the guys and talk to some of the coaches there. They seemed real welcoming."

The Highlands track and field teams won the Class 2A, Region 4 championships last year. The Highlands girls then finished 12th at state with 24 points and the boys scored five points to finish tied for 31st. Highlands girls track and field Head Coach Brian Alessandro said he prepared the team in case this happened with a video.

"I do think it's the right thing to do," Alessandro said of the KHSAA cancelling the spring season. "But it doesn't make it any easier for the seniors for sure."

Senior Lara Fecher hoped to place in the top three at state in the pole vault this season. Alessandro said Fecher will try to walk on at the University of Cincinnati.

The Highlands boys tennis team did open its season with a 5-0 win over Pendleton County at Tower Park on March 10. But the Highlands girls tennis team also did not play any games. Kris Laskey again coached the Highlands boys and Kevin Listerman coached the girls.

"The biggest things right now for the spring sports is the disappointment for the seniors that they don't get that opportunity to compete," Listerman said. "At this point in the season, there's not really a whole lot you can do. The most important thing is to get through this thing healthy with as few people getting sick and we'll get started again."

Highlands did start an ESports program this year. The head coach is Shih Yang Wen.

The KHSAA has restricted athletes from working out on school property during a dead period that will last until July 9 currently. That includes places such as Winkler Field and Highland Park because both are lead by Highlands High School from the city. The only thing allowed by players and coaches is maintenance.

Highlands Director of Athletics Kevin Nieporte said the pandemic has forced the school to hold awards ceremonies and uniform turn-ins differently. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear hopes to have more announcements concerning Phase 2 re-openings this week. The United State government guidance on Opening Up America says schools can re-open during this phase.

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