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Prep Sports Notebook: Highlands boys basketball coach expected his team’s strong start

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

After finishing the last eight seasons with a losing record, the Highlands boys basketball team is off to a 3-0 start that includes a stunning 57-51 win over defending state champion Covington Catholic on Tuesday.

“Any win feels good, especially one against a program that’s had the success that they have had the last several years,” Kevin Listerman said of his first win over CovCath in six seasons as Highlands head coach.

The fact that the margins of victory in the five previous games between the long-time rivals was between 24 and 60 points made Tuesday’s win at home even more gratifying for Listerman.

Highlands center Ben Sisson, No. 30, averaged 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in his team’s first three wins. (Photo by Allen Ramsey, dwcphoto.com)

In the Northern Kentucky pre-season coaches poll, CovCath was No. 1 and Highlands was No. 11. The Bluebirds finished with a 13-15 record last season, but the coach had a good feeling about the players he had returning.

“I thought that our group would compete very hard and that we had some guys with complementary skill sets that would give us the potential to have a very good year,” he said.

Ben Sission, a 6-foot-5 senior center, is averaging 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds after the Bluebirds first three games. He’s off to a much better start than last season when he didn’t play until late January because he broke a bone in his leg playing football.

“Having a healthy Ben Sisson has made a big difference for us,” Listerman said. “He’s mobile and he’s long, and the nice thing with Ben is he gives us a rim protector back there on defense.”

The team’s second leading scorer is senior guard Ryan Leigh with a 12.3 average. In the win over CovCath, he was 7-of-11 from the field with four 3-point goals.

“Ryan led our jayvee (junior varsity) team in scoring last year and put in a ton of time during the offseason with weight training and conditioning,” Listerman said. “That’s led to his confidence being very high early in the season.”

Senior forward Alex Starkey has been the Bluebirds’ defensive standout in addition to averaging 7.3 points per game. The coach has also been impressed with the defensive play of senior forward Nate Roberts and the floor leadership of sophomore point guard Sam Vinson, who has an 8.7 scoring average.

A talented bench gives Highlands good depth in games and provides the competition in practice that every team needs to be successful.  

“This group has really bought into putting themselves through the process,” Listerman said. “They go out every single day in practice to make each other better. That’s probably the biggest thing that got us ready for the start of our season.”

Schools retiring jersey numbers of top basketball players

Two high-scoring basketball players will have their jersey numbers retired by their high schools during ceremonies at home games next week.

Brandon Hatton

Ally Niece

On Tuesday, Dixie Heights will retire the No. 33 jersey worn by 2014 graduate Brandon Hatton, who holds the 9th Region boys basketball career scoring record with 3,045 points.

On Wednesday, the Simon Kenton girls basketball team will honor Ally Niece by retiring her jersey No. 25. She graduated last spring as the Pioneers’ all-time leading scorer with 1,975 points. 

As a freshman, Hatton was named most valuable player on the 2011 9th Region all-tournament team. He scored 24 points in the championship game when Dixie Heights defeated Newport Central Catholic, 79-76, in four overtimes.

Hatton played one season at Vermont University before transferring to Kentucky Wesleyan, where he played in 58 games over the last two seasons. He averaged 9.3 points and shot 40 percent from 3-point range with the Panthers.

Niece, a two-time all-state player for Simon Kenton, missed most of her senior season while recovering from knee surgery. But she returned in time for the playoffs and led the Pioneers to the 8th Region title last March.

Playing with a brace on her left knee, Niece had 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in the regional championship game and was named most valuable player on the all-tournament team.

Niece is a starting freshman guard on the Northern Kentucky University women’s basketball team this season. In the first five games, she averaged 6.0 points and 2.4 rebounds for the Norse. 

Football teams have done well in 60 years of state playoffs

This is the 60th year that Kentucky high school football teams competed in post-season playoffs that began in 1959 with three classes. Highlands was Class 2A state runner-up that first year and set a precedent for continued playoff success by Northern Kentucky teams.

One or more local team has reached the state finals in 53 of the first 60 years of the playoffs. Those teams compiled a 57-34 record in championship games held in six different classes for a 62.6 winning percentage.

The last time the state finals did not include a local team was 1978. In the 40 years since then, there have been 45 state champion and 29 state runner-up teams from Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.

Fifteen schools in those three counties have had a team in the state finals since 1959. Highlands heads the local list of title contenders with a 23-6 record in championship games played in four different classes.

Beechwood has a 14-5 record in Class 1A finals, including a win over Pikeville in Friday’s championship game. Covington Catholic lost to South Warren in the Class 5A final on Sunday and now has a 7-1 record in title games.

The records for the other 12 local teams in state championship games are: Newport Central Catholic 5-9, Lloyd 2-0, Bellevue 2-4, Holy Cross 1-0, Ludlow 1-0, Dayton 1-0, Conner 1-1, Boone County 0-4, Ryle 0-1, Cooper 0-1, Dixie Heights 0-1, Simon Kenton 0-1.



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