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Highlands Bluebirds soccer team's defense key to strong season, potential state title run

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Posted at 8:00 AM, Oct 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-11 08:11:52-04

FORT THOMAS, Ky. -- The Highlands boys’ soccer team is on a roll just as the postseason tournaments are set to begin this week in Northern Kentucky.

The Bluebirds (16-2-2) have won three straight since a 3-0 loss to Cincinnati La Salle Sept. 29 and have won 13 of 14 overall. Among the 16 wins and two ties have been 14 shutouts behind a stifling defense.

They’ll put their winning streak on the line Tuesday against neighborhood rival Newport Central Catholic (14-7) at the 36th District final at 7 p.m. at Highlands. The Birds beat NewCath 1-0 on Sept. 22 at home and the Highlands coaches and players expect another physical and defensive struggle.

“This team is definitely defensively strong,” Highlands coach Matthew Winkler said. “That’s our focus as coaches, to make sure our defense is as strong as it can be. We have a good four backs and both of our keepers are really strong. But when we need to get into an attack, we’re able to put goals on the board.”

Senior defender Parker Smith, one of three team captains this season, leads the defense in front of senior keepers Simon Frink and Paul Tully.

“At the start of the year, I was kind of worried because we have two sophomores playing outside back and the other center back had never played center back before this year,” Smith said. “I was kind of worried about how we would do, but we’ve molded together pretty well. We always know where our back line is. The other center back, (junior) Drew Rom, is very physical. Me and him are pretty tight with each other and we’re always able to get the job done.”

The other two team captains, junior midfielders Colton Dolezal and Nick Gish, have gotten the job done all season as well. They have each scored eight goals and have made a team high 10 assists apiece.

“Nick and I have a strong relationship both on and off the field,” Dolezal said. “We both kind of know the ins and outs of each other and what we’re capable of. Nick is always by my side, so without having to really think twice, I know where he is. So Nick is a versatile player and he can play anywhere on the field. It’s nice to have a midfielder like that.”

Gish feels the same way.

“No matter what I’m doing or where I’m at, I know I have him to back me up or he’s in a spot where I can get it to him,” Gish said. “It’s one of those things where no matter where he is, I know. So I’m able to play my ball in.”

Senior Solomon Farris leads the team with 15 goals and senior Ethan Mills has added nine goals as well to lead the offense.

“They’ve been together a long time and they’ve played a lot together, so they know each other.," Winkler said. "They know what works with each other and what doesn’t work with each other. They’re able to respond to their situations and I think that has helped us throughout the season."

NewCath will be a big postseason test. Both teams will reach next week’s regional tournament, but a win will secure a better seed. Along with playing for a district title and a higher regional seed, neighborhood bragging rights are again on the table. These two teams compete well against each other regardless of the records or the talent on the teams.

“We know their players and they know our players, so we know how each other is going to play,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be ready to handle their guys up top.”            

A good start to the postseason will go a long way toward the Bluebirds’ ultimate goal -- a state championship. 

“I think we can make a really long run for state,” Gish said. “It’s not going to be anything easy. We’re going to have to fight for what we can do. But I think if we can get a good win this week against NCC and then get a good seed in region, we can make a run for it. Being a team that’s had many wins, we’re going to have a target on our back. So we’re going to have to play strong.”