|Highlands Hoops Leads Headlines of School Year|
|PHOTO: Dale Dawn. The Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team celebrates after winning the first state championship in school history.|
Editor's Note: This is one of two stories reviewing the Highlands school year.
Coronavirus 2019 pushed back and shortened much of the fall and winter seasons.
But that did not stop the Highlands Bluebirds athletes and coaches from doing what they love and bringing home some championships. That includes one team and five individual state championships.
The run of the boys basketball team to the first state championship in school history leads the way this year. The Bluebirds averaged 1.27 points per possession winning 21 straight on the way to the gold trophy finishing with a 30-4 record. Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year and point guard Sam Vinson led the way averaging 22.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
All five Highlands starters averaged at least 8.2 points per game. The team made an impressive 360-of-814 three-point tries for 44.2 percent averaging between 10 and 11 triples per game. Luke Muller led the way there making 122-of-266 three-point tries for just below 46 percent. Vinson will play basketball down the road at Northern Kentucky University and Muller will golf for the Norse.
After claiming a second straight 36th District Tournament crown, Highlands battled through a rugged 9th Region field for the 13th region title in school history. The Bluebirds held off St. Henry (74-68) in the semifinals at Holmes before pulling away from Conner for a 77-67 region title win. That six-point win over the Crusaders marked the closest anyone came to the Bluebirds in the postseason.
Highlands overwhelmed 3rd Region champion Muhlenberg County, 88-60 in the first round. The quarterfinal match-up with 1st Region champion McCracken County proved to be the toughest test for the Bluebirds. Highlands led just 52-50 with 4:10 left in the game. But the Bluebirds made 11-of-15 free throws in the game's final 2:52 to pull away for a 63-53 win. They did not make any field goals in the fourth quarter.
The Bluebirds then faced 16th Region champion Ashland Blazer in the state semifinals back at Rupp Arena in Lexington at 2 p.m. The Tomcats led a good part of the first half.
Highlands led 56-50 with 5:10 left in the game. But the Tomcats did not score the rest of the way as the Bluebirds finished the game with a 10-0 run to win 66-50 and advance to the title game that evening.
The Bluebirds did not have as much rest as the final opponent in the Elizabethtown Panthers, who played Louisville Ballard at 11 a.m. that same day. But it did not matter. The Bluebirds reset quickly, built a 48-27 halftime advantage and kept the momentum in the second half on their way to a 79-60 win in the state championship game. Highlands wound up winning the four state tournament games by an average of just more than 18 points.
Highlands had one individual state champion in each of the seasons. Maggie Schroeder started it in the fall with her second Class 2A cross country state championship in three years winning the race in a time of 19 minutes, 16.87 seconds.
The Bluebirds finished runner-up in the Class 2A meet with 112 points. The Christian Academy of Louisville won it with 97 points. Schroeder also won the Class 2A, Region 4 meet in 18:51.08. The Bluebirds just missed out on a region championship with 49 points - one behind champion Scott High's 48.
Highlands senior Mac Russell won two individual state championships. Russell won the 50-yard Freestyle in 20.34 seconds and the 100 Freestyle in 44.66. Russell, a University of Kentucky commit, earned All-American honors automatically and scored a combined 40 points.
The Highlands boys swimming and diving team finished runner-up for the second straight year with 201.5 points. Louisville St. Xavier won it handily again with 537 points.
The combined team finished third at state with 210.5 points after winning it in 2020. Lexington Dunbar and Henry Clay finished first and second with 240 and 226.5 points respectively.
The Highlands boys also won a fourth straight Region 7 title. But the combined team could not bring home a 10th straight region title. Ryle claimed that crown this year.
Schroeder finished her historic career at Highlands with a runner-up finish in the two-mile run at the University of Kentucky in 11:33.82. CAL junior Addie Dewey won it in 11:26.93. Schroeder will run at NKU this fall.
The Highlands girls finished sixth in the state meet with 34 points. They also finished region runner-up in Class 2A, Region 4 behind Bourbon County.
Highlands junior Jake Welch helped the Highlands boys track and field team to a Class 2A state runner-up finish winning a crown in the 400 in 49.67 seconds. Highlands had 75 points. Mercer County won it with 78.5 points. The Bluebirds had a chance for a state championship in the final race.
Welch took fifth in the 200 in 22.67 seconds and seventh in the 100 in 11.19 seconds. He also helped the mile relay team finish second in a school record 3:25.49. Other members of the team are senior Will Griffith, junior Thomas Gray-Torsell and sophomore Aiden Nevels.
Highlands won the Class 2A, Region 4 meet with 168 points. Welch scored 26 points in that meet winning the 300, 200 and finishing third in the 100. The mile relay team also won that race.
Highlands senior Abby Bach won the first girls bowling state championship in school history besting Cooper's Ranelle Ulanday in the title game, 239-163. Bach also won the Region 5 individual crown beating Campbell County's Kaylee Hitt, 177-171 in the title match.
The Highlands girls bowling team finished Region 5 runner-up to Campbell County to qualify for state. The Bluebirds lost 3-2 to Harrison County in the first round of the state tournament.
The Highlands competitive dance team placed in two categories at state this year. The Bluebirds finished runner-up in the Pom category and seventh in Hip Hop after winning the Hip Hop and Pom crowns at the Section 3 events.