|Bluebirds Best Thoroughbreds at Morscher Park|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands freshman defender Kendall Graves gets in position in the win over Newport Central Catholic on Wednesday.|
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The Highlands Bluebirds girls soccer team (12-4-1 overall) ventured to Morsher Park knowing the grass at Don Velten Field might slow down the planned scoring party in the opposing attack zone.
But it did not stop the party. Highlands scored once in the first half and piled things on in the second half shutting out the arch-rival Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (9-11-1), 6-0 for a sixth consecutive district championship and 12th straight win over the rivals.
"I think at the beginning of the year, a new coaching staff comes in with lot of questions on how things were going to work, who's going to play and how we're going to react to certain situations," said Chris Norris, Highlands Head Coach. "I feel like the coaches here have done an excellent job of getting their buy in and making sure they understand that this is their team and they can drive it as far as they want to go."
Norris said former Highlands goalkeeper Jasmine Rehberger dialed in and gave the Bluebirds some words of encouragement Wednesday leading up to the game. The Bluebirds recorded just two shutouts during the regular season. But the third one came at the right time as senior goalkeeper Meg Gessner had to make no saves.
NewCath had six shots. But none were on target. Highlands made sure of it, especially in the back with the likes of senior defenders Jade Rehberger, Hailey Barton and freshmen Kate Fausz and Kendall Graves. It also helped that Highlands midfielders such as seniors Faith Broering, Julia Heck, Lucy New and sophomore Ava Meyer won a lot of 50/50 balls. Jade Rehberger made the all-tournament teams.
"I am so hyped for this team," Barton said. "I can't wait to see how far this team goes from here. Our defenders worked their tails off in this game, especially Kendall. I'm so proud of her. We all communicated so well."
The main concern for the Highlands defense was senior forward Rylee Turner. She led NewCath with 14 goals and seven assists for 21 points entering the game.
"I think these five (back players) have worked incredibly hard all year to gel," Norris said. "They know how to cover each other. I think they were very supportive of each other (Wednesday). It's been a season-long culmination of what it takes to be successful on the field. That was a tremendous example of that."
That gave Highlands plenty of opportunities with 35 shots including 18 on goal and seven corner kicks. NewCath freshman goalkeeper Kaitlyn Haigis kept the Thoroughbreds in the game in the first half recording 12 saves.
Tournament Most Valuable Player Broering and the other Highlands all-tournament selection in sophomore forward Laney Smith led the way for the Bluebirds with two goals and one assist for five points each. Smith has all three team-highs with 18 goals and 10 assists for 46 points. Broering has 11 goals and five assists for 27 points.
"I'm so unbelievably proud of my teammates," Broering said. "I think we're hitting our peak at the right time. None of those goals would have happened without every single player on the team. I wish we could credit every player with an assist because everybody works their tails off to get those goals. Those teams goals."
Sophomore forward Claire Cavacini added three points with one goal and one assist for the Bluebirds. Cavacini has 10 goals and five assists on the season for 25 points.
Broering scored the lone goal in the first half from the left side with 23:51 remaining before Smith scored her two goals in the 10 minutes of the second half. Cavacini assisted the first one with 37:51 left in the game and Broering assisted the second one with 30:20 to go.
Broering scored her second goal with 16:58 left in the game. Smith found her in the middle for the assist putting Highlands up 4-0.
The Bluebirds took no chances after seeing NewCath nearly rally to tie the game in the 4-3 win at the same field Sept. 1. Meyer recorded her first assist of the season to Cavacini with 9:25 left in the game.
Highlands added the final goal with 7:19 left in the game. Fausz scored her first goal of the season putting in a rebound on a scramble in the box on a corner kick from junior forward Anna Melson. That is Melson's third assist of the season.
Haigis and her teammates wanted a hand ball called to no avail on the play. But the refs did call off a Highlands goal later on after handball infraction.
The Bluebirds will play host to a 9th Region Quarterfinal game at Tower Park. The drawing will be held later in the week. One potential opponent is 35th runner-up Beechwood, who battled undefeated Notre Dame to a 2-1 loss on kicks from the box in the 35th title game Wednesday.