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Thursday, November 18, 2021

2021-2022 Highlands Girls Basketball Preview

Highlands Faces Numerous Unknowns Entering Season

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior point guard Alyssa Harris brings the ball up the court in the 9th Region semifinals against Dixie Heights last year. Harris is the team's lone returning starter from last year's team that finished 20-7.

It's one of those years where less varsity experience returns than others for the Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team.

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But it is not something veteran Head Coach Jaime Walz-Richey and staff have not dealt with before. Richey enters her 20th season at the helm of the program and is eight wins shy of career win number 400 with a record of 392-188 including nine straight seasons with 20 or more victories.

Highlands finished 20-7 last year winning a seventh straight 36th District Tournament crown and eighth in the last nine seasons in a delayed season as a result of the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic. The Bluebirds knocked off Covington Holy Cross, 59-43 in the first round of the 9th Region Tournament before losing 54-42 to eventual region champion Dixie Heights.

The Bluebirds graduated just more than 80 percent of their scoring from last year graduating five seniors. Four-year starting post Rory O'Hara took her talents to the NCAA Division II University of Tampa (Florida) and forward Emma Riccobene is playing at NCAA Division III Centre College in Danville. Forward Kelsey Listerman led Highlands in scoring and the other two to graduate were Emma Mallery and Kate Vaught.

The lone returning starter is junior 5-foot-6-inch point guard Alyssa Harris. She has primarily brought the ball up the court the last two years. Richey said she has spent time in the gym working on her shot so teams stop helping off her. But Richey said she is currently unable to play now because of an injury. Harris said she could not play soccer or run cross country in the fall because of injuries sustained during track and field season in the spring. Harris is the team's leading returning rebounder with 77.

"Experience is going to be one of our weaknesses," Richey said. "But I told the girls we have to continue to outwork teams. We have to make up for things."

But that will not stop Harris from helping prepare the underclassmen for the varsity level. She is one of three returning players that saw significant varsity action last year.

"We definitely have a lot of good shooters coming up even though they are young," Harris said. "We just need to get them comfortable with the game, especially as they are playing older girls. Knowing that we have something to rely on is a good thing to be comfortable with going into our first game."

Senior 5-8 guard Meg Gessner and senior 6-1 center CC Shick are the other two to return with significant varsity experience. Gessner just signed to play soccer at Northern Kentucky University and Shick will play volleyball at Hanover (Indiana) College.

Shick played in just 12 games last year because of an injury. But she did collect 39 rebounds last year. Shick knows she'll have to step out of her comfort zone this year.

"We're working on that in practice, especially me," Shick said. "All of the upperclassmen are trying to take big strides with leadership positions because there are so few of us. We're trying to paint the big picture for the underclassmen getting down to the basics then narrowing it down after that."

Two sophomores saw limited action on varsity in 6-2 center Marissa Green and 5-6 guard Laney Smith. Green and Shick give Highlands size advantage inside. Green has an offer from NCAA Division I Morehead State University.

"We're going to have to take advantage of our height inside," Richey said. "Our guards are going to be able to get the ball to those girls when they're open. They can't be a second late so we've really been working on that."

Beyond those five, Richey said a number of players will rotate between the junior varsity and varsity. That includes two 5-6 juniors in forward Megan Calme and guard Ellie Walz.

"The biggest thing is we have to take one day at a time," Richey said. "We have to continue to get better offensively. Defensively, we have to be able to stop people. Defense has always been one of our strengths."

Highlands outscored opponents, 1,368-982 last year for average of just more than 50 to just more than 36 per game. The Bluebirds also nabbed 686 rebounds for an average of between 25 and 26.

The Bluebirds made 487-of-1,154 shots for an average of just more than 42 percent including 124-of-411 three-point tries for 30 percent. They hit 270-of-370 free throws for 73 percent.

Highlands opens the season at Dixie Heights on Dec. 2. Game time is 7 p.m. 

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