Undefeated on the season and having allowed a grand total of zero goals, the Highlands girls’ soccer team still managed to enter Monday with a chip on its shoulder.
The Bluebirds were ranked third in the state behind defending champion Sacred Heart and Murray in the latest Maher Rankings. They helped their case for a No. 1 ranking by defeating the Valkyries, 1-0, in the first round of the Casey, Bailey and Maines Lady Knights Challenge Cup on Monday night at Lexington Catholic.
Sydney Ossege’s goal in the 37th minute made the scoring difference, but Highlands’ tenacious team defense had even more to do with the Bluebirds producing their ninth shutout of the season.
Sacred Heart (7-2-1) lost its second straight game and first to a Kentucky opponent. The Valkyries nearly tied the game on a free kick by Erin Herbert with 40 seconds left, but the shot bounced off the crossbar. Bluebirds keeper Olivia McQueary secured the rebound and the victory.
Highlands improved to 9-0-1. The lone tie was a 1-1 decision at home to Mount Notre Dame (Ohio).
“We knew we had good talent coming in, from the seniors on the team all the way down to the freshmen,” Highlands Coach Brian Wiefering said. “ ... We told them at the beginning of the year that we have one goal, and that’s to win state.
“They’re too good individually, they’re too good technically, they’re too good of players; if we can come together as a group, state should be our goal.”
They’re coming together on the field in part because they’re coming together off of it; both the varsity and JV squads gather every Sunday evening to break down film for two hours with the coaching staff. Wiefering wasn’t sure if the team would be able to pick up the defensive principles his staff was trying to employ, let alone get excited to learn about it.
They’ve taken to it and run.
“To have a group of 40 girls in a room and ask them to pay attention for two hours on a Sunday evening says a lot about these girls,” Wiefering said.
Dissecting footage has been rewarding, Wiefering said, but conditioning takes an even greater priority in the Bluebirds’ program.
“We want to be the best-conditioned team in Kentucky” he said. “That has to be first. And they take that serious.”
How serious? While on the bus to Lexington on Monday, the players badgered Wiefering about not having scheduled a Tuesday practice.
“I need a day off,” Wiefering said with a laugh. “We are now gonna have practice tomorrow. That’s what this team’s about.”
Highlands plays 9th Region rival Notre Dame at 6 pm. Thursday for a bid in the Challenge Cup finals. Like the Bluebirds, the Pandas (8-3-1) are undefeated against in-state competition this season.
“You look at this tournament and say ‘Oh my gosh,’” Wiefering said. “ ... This is almost like the state tournament.”
Lady Knights Challenge Cup
Monday (first round): Notre Dame 1, Manual 0; Highlands 1, Sacred Heart 0
Tuesday (first round): Tates Creek vs. Assumption, 6 p.m.; Simon Kenton at Lexington Catholic, 8 p.m.
Thursday (semifinals): Highlands vs. Notre Dame, 6 p.m.; Tuesday’s winners, 8 p.m.
Saturday: Finals, 7 p.m.