New coaches are taking on the leadership of girls’ soccer programs that are multi-year contenders for the 9th region title
By Matthew Dietz
NKyTribune sports reporter
Since a statewide reorganization of girls’ football in 2012, Notre Dame and Highlands into 9th. Notre Dame won the top six and Highlands won the last three.
With the Season 2021, which starts this week, puts a new fold in the longstanding rivalry between the hugely successful programs. Both have new head coaches who happen to know each other well.
That summer, Chris Norris became Head Coach at Highlands and Suli Kayed took over the helm of the Notre Dame program. Norris was Boone County’s boys’ soccer coach from 2015 to 2019 before handing that team over to Kayed, who coached the Rebels for the past two seasons.
“I hope the two of us will dominate northern Kentucky girls’ football for the next five or six years,” said Norris.
The new coaches will pit their teams against each other on Monday, August 30th, when Notre Dame Highlands plays for an 8pm game at Tower Park in Ft. visited. Thomas.
Both teams have once again a wealth of talent. The coaches try to apply the knowledge acquired in professional life and to implement new philosophies in the programs.
At Notre Dame, Kayed and his new coaching staff have made it a priority to connect with the players as well as the families involved. In addition, the team held parents’ meetings, team meetings and enabled the players to take part in optional summer workouts, which strengthened the bond before the actual preparatory training even began.
“My biggest goal was to start building relationships as early as possible,” said Kayed. âFor me, relationships come first, system second. If you don’t have relationships, your system won’t work. “
At Highlands, Norris and his staff have prioritized three elements of the game for each player – communication, confidence and composure. The team has also developed a mentoring program for players and parents.
“We’re really focusing on the mental strength it takes to be a strong teammate and a good winner in Northern Kentucky,” said Norris.
The Highlands Bluebirds return with Laney Smith (21 goals, 8 assists) and senior midfielder Faith Broering (15 goals, 6 assists) with their top two scorers from last year’s Regional Championship team. With new starters in several other positions, Broering takes on an important leadership role.
“She does a fantastic job of not only organizing our midfield but also making sure the younger players understand what it takes to get to the next level,” said Norris of the University of Cincinnati recruit.
On the defensive, the Bluebirds have only one starter, Jade Rehlberger, who is returning from a unit that failed to score in 15 of 19 games last season. Norris said vacancies in the line-up allow other players to take on a defensive role, including senior Margo Brandenberger, junior Bianca Hemsath and Ruby Smith, and newcomer Kate Fausz.
Highlands senior goalkeeper Megan Gessner, who only allowed two goals in 18 games last year, won’t be available for every game this fall as she plans to play also with a club team. While she’s gone, the Bluebirds Senior will have Haley Parks to take care of the network.
“If Meg can come to us,” said Norris, “she trains hard, she increases our goalkeeping unit in training and we will try to win her in as many games as possible to make our team as strong as possible.”
Notre Dame was also hit hard by the finish after losing to Dixie Heights last year in the region’s semi-finals. One of the outgoing seniors was Lauren Carothers, who scored 15 goals on the team and was named Miss Kentucky Soccer.
The team’s top scorer is senior Macie Feldman (12 goals, 9 assists). Two other seniors – Eleanor Simkonis and Marina Ruthsatz – lead a list of other possible starters in the attacking third.
“We have about six or seven players that I’m confident will start a few games higher this year,” said Kayed. “It’s just about finding out who had the best week of training.”
One of the goals of the Notre Dame coach is to create a system where the attack is less about individual ball skills and more about having each player do their part to make the team as productive as possible.
“I think the most important thing for me is that we can create an attack system in the final third where we don’t have to rely on a Macie or an Eleanor to score,” said Kayed. “When we were at Bluegrass (State Games), I think we had six different players who scored goals last week and we want to see that.”
Notre Dame’s goalkeeping situation was also called into question after the team lost Kate Moore and Sarah Witt to the final. This opens up the opportunity for Abby Breeze and the second Hannah Renaker to take on this position.
âThey’re both competing for a place in college,â said Kayed. “Both look really good so I’m not worried about our goalkeeping situation.”