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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Highlands Volleyball Smashes Way to Fifth Straight 36th District Crown

Bluebirds Use Balanced Attack in Victory

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Senior four-year starter CC Shick has been a part of the last four of five consecutive 36th District championships for the Bluebirds.

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The final game for nine seniors at Russell Bridges Gym proved to be memorable.

The Highlands Bluebirds volleyball team (28-7 overall) came out strong and took care of the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (13-23) by a 3-0 score (25-15, 25-12, 25-18) in front of their classmates and families. Highlands has won five consecutive 36th District championships completing the rotation winning crowns on all five gyms in the district.

"We always have extra locker time in games like this because there's no freshman or junior varsity games," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "We talked about what our aim was outside of winning. It was to play super connected together, to be full-throttle the whole game and to have a lot of fun. They accomplished all that. That equals a win in my book anyway."

Highlands is the lone team in the district with a winning record. The Bluebirds won the three regular season and two district tournament games against district opponents by 3-0 scores. They won by forfeit against Dayton during the regular season.

Highlands moves on to the 9th Region Tournament next week at Conner. The Bluebirds will face Dixie Heights, Cooper or the 35th runner-up between Notre Dame and Covington Holy Cross in the region quarterfinals.

NewCath has lost six of seven down the stretch. The Thoroughbreds have three seniors. Junior libero Camryn Kohrs leads NewCath along with sophomore setter/outside hitter Kori Reckers.

The Bluebirds recorded nine aces, 34 kills and assists, one solo block, two assisted blocks and 61 digs. The tournament's most valuable player in senior Sophia Sarakatsannis led the way with 13 digs, six kills and one ace.

"We've put in a lot of work," Sarakatsannis said. "I think the reason we do so well is every ball matters for us. In practice, there are times where you can goof off. But we know that each match could be our last so we put the maximum effort into each ball to get outcomes like this."

Senior four-year starter CC Shick and senior Lauren Buemi also made the all-tournament team. Shick had 13 kills, five aces, nine digs and an assisted block with Buemi. Buemi added eight kills, one solo block and two digs.

"Offensively, our focus was to be balanced so that everybody would get a lot of swings," Sallee said. "I think we did accomplish that. Trying to set the middle often is difficult because your ball control has to be so sharp. There were times where we would set our middle and it was a tough ball. Our middles weren't playing the ball. They were smart. Instead of swinging into the bottom of the net, they were placing the ball smart."

Of the nine seniors, only setter Madison Opitz did not dress varsity last year. Optiz had 29 assists, eight digs and two aces.

"It's definitely a special time having the last game here with everybody all together," Opitz said. "But we definitely finished it out with a big win. We all gelled together all hyped up."

The defensive specialists did a good job passing the ball to Opitz per usual. Senior Madison Clore had 11 digs and senior Honor Valentine had nine digs.

This marked the sixth district tournament crown in the last 10 years for Highlands. The Bluebirds won it in 2012 in the first year in the current alignment, but did not win it again until 2017 to start the current run.

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