|Bluebirds Take on Lexington Catholic on Saturday at Tower Park|
|The Highlands girls soccer team prepares for the state tournament game against Lexington Catholic on Saturday. Game time is 4 p.m. (Img: G. Michael Graham)|
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
They are the names you most likely will not read about in game stories.
But these Highlands Bluebirds girls soccer players have just as huge of a role on the team as the main players. Behind the scenes, especially in practices, these reserves help the main players prepare for games.
During games, they stand up and cheer for their teammates whether they get into the games or not. That is part of the 'We, not me' mentality that third-year Head Coach Alex Dean and staff have emphasized over the years.
"It also helps keep continuity throughout the program," said Bianca Hemsath, Highlands sophomore defender. "If you're cheering everyone else on, your freshman, sophomore, junior year, when you go step out on the field, other girls are doing the same for you and I think that's motivating and that really helps the program grow."
Highlands (15-1-2 overall) won its third consecutive 9th Region championship with a 3-0 win over Dixie Heights at Tower Park on Wednesday. That marked the first time in the long and storied history of the program that happened. Dean credited every single player after the victory.
"All 24 of our girls have been great this year, especially the ones that aren't kind of getting the playing time that they want," Dean said. "One things we do try to remind the players of is their age. If you're a freshman, sophomore or junior, there are going to maybe be chances in the future where you're the one getting all the playing time. You're waiting for your shot. When you do get your opportunity, be ready to go."
The Bluebirds play the first round of the state tournament Saturday against the Lexington Catholic Lady Knights (13-2-1) at Tower Park at 4 p.m. The Coronavirus 2019 pandemic delayed the start of the season to Sept. 7. Dean said you never knew if players would have to come in if a teammate came down with it.
"We're confident they can perform well," Dean said. "The postseason is a bit tighter on playing time. We wouldn't have success without all 24 of our girls. It's been to great to see all of us treat each other equally. That's one thing that our program does very well."
Junior goalkeeper Haley Parks has seen action in three games this year. Junior goalkeeper Meg Gessner and senior goalkeeper Jasmine Rehberger generally split halves between the pipes. Parks has seen action in three games recording one save.
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"Communication is a big part," Parks said. "We all communicate whether there is a certain girl that is fast or likes to take certain shots from certain points. Anything we see, we go and let the goalkeeper know just in case anybody goes in."
Highlands senior Jenna Hartung has seen action in every game this year after playing in just seven games last year. Hartung has two goals and three assists on the season. Similar to how senior Shanna Gilbert told jokes to keep everyone loose on the 2005 state championship squad, Hartung said junior Macy Hedenberg takes a role like that.
"(Hedenberg) was (positive and funny) on the bench last year as well," Hartung said. "It's a lot of inside jokes. We have fun."
The reserves often simulate opponents in practice. Junior defender Hailey Barton among others do that for this group.
"I like helping the starters have someone to go against so they can get better," Barton said. "We can work on things that we need to be working on for games like the important one this Saturday. It's nice. I like it."
The younger players did see action on the junior varsity and freshman teams. The Highlands junior varsity finished 7-5-1 this year advancing three rounds in the 9th Region JV Tournament and the freshmen finished 2-4-1.
"It was nice to get a lot of playing time on JV then to come watch varsity to get a few minutes with the girls," said Anna Melson, Highlands sophomore forward. "I love soccer. I've definitely dedicated a lot of my life to it. I play club and am always doing something soccer-related."
Scouting the Lady Knights:
LexCath and veteran Head Coach Terry Quigley won the 11th Region for the second straight season with a 3-1 win over Lexington Lafayette (10-4-2). The Lady Knights have won six in a row and have posted nine shutouts on the year. They have outscored opponents, 51-7 this season.
LexCath has seen 15 different players score this year and another add an assist. Sophomore forward Mary-Martin Hampton leads the way with 13 goals and nine assists for 35 points and junior midfielder/forward Emily Scanlon had 13 goals and six assists for 32 points.
Highlands has outscored opponents, 66-7 posting 14 shutouts this year including eight in a row. The two teams could have met in the second round of the annual Lexington Catholic Lady Knights Challenge Cup. But Highlands edged Sacred Heart, 1-0 and Notre Dame beat LexCath by the same score so the Bluebirds beat the Pandas, 1-0 in the second round of the tournament before losing 3-2 on penalty kicks to Lexington Dunbar.
Highlands has seen 17 players score this year and 17 record assists. Freshman forward Laney Smith leads the way with 21 goals and eight assists for 50 points. Junior midfielder Faith Broering is second with 15 goals and six assists for 36 points and junior forward Chloe Bramble has six goals and nine assists for 21 points. Junior defender Jade Rehberger leads Highlands with 13 assists.
The Bluebirds bested the Lady Knights, 2-1 winning penalty kicks 4-1 in the state quarterfinals at Tower Park last year. Highlands finished state runner-up last year losing 1-0 in the state championship game to Greenwood.
"They're not going to have a girl that wins the scoring record," Dean said. "They're going to have girls that are going to get middle teens each year. They're going to have three to four girls that score. They're a great example of team. We have the utmost respect for them. We have to make sure that we're ready to go."
Highlands owns nine region championships in school history. The Bluebirds won consecutive state championships in 2005 and 2006 before finishing state runner-up last year, 2018 and in 2008.