Thursday, December 02, 1999

Highlands uneasy No. 1 in N.Ky.

Ailing Bluebirds have struggled in scrimmages

Enquirer contributor

        If you ask Highlands girls basketball coach Luci Cecil about her team's No.1 ranking in the Enquirer coaches' Northern Kentucky poll, you'd think you were talking to the coach of a sub-.500 team.

        “We're just not healthy right now,” she said. “We really got slaughtered in a scrimmage at Oldham County two weeks ago. And we don't have the quickness we had last year. The No.1 is not what I want.”

  1. Highlands (11) ....... 24-5 196
  2. Bishop Brossart (8) ....... 30-2 194
  3. Holmes (1) ....... 23-7 178
  4. Boone County (1) ....... 16-12 160
  5. Notre Dame Academy (2) ....... 13-12 147
  6. Newport ....... 13-13 89
  7. Holy Cross ....... 18-13 63
  8. Ryle ....... 11-14 49
  9. Conner ....... 23-5 46
  10. Campbell County ....... 12-15 41
  Others: Newport Central Catholic 38; Scott 31; Simon Kenton 13; St. Henry 12; Walton-Verona 6; Beechwood, Villa Madonna 4; Bellevue 3; Dixie Heights 2.
        Like it or not, Highlands is No.1, and Cecil's top players are eager to get the season started as the area's marked team. The Bluebirds open Friday at Louisville Ballard.

        “It's good to be on top, but you have to go out and defend it and show all the teams you play why you're there,” said sophomore Tara Boothe, who averaged 13

        points and eight rebounds last year.

        Junior forward Stephanie Ripberger averaged 11 points for last year's squad, which is trying to move past the last-second regional championship loss to Holmes last March. It was the sixth straight appearance in the Ninth Region Championship for Highlands.

        “The ratings don't mean that much,” Ripberger said. “There's a lot of pressure that comes with it. But we'll try not to let that bother us.”

        Cecil wants to see her team's full-court pressure bother the opposition. That may be tough, though, with two of the fastest Bluebirds from last year having graduated.

        “We'll need to control the ball a little more this year since we've lost some quick, athletic players,” Cecil said.

        Boothe thinks the loss of athleticism was only a minor setback.

        “We've lost a lot of speed, so maybe we'll play a little more zone defense,” she said. “But we can make up for it in other ways, because we have more muscle inside and good depth. And we have a lot of experienced players.”

        One of those experienced players is Joanna Imhoff, a senior shooting guard who has seen varsity action since the sixth grade.

        “She's been around for quite a while,” Cecil said. “If Joanna plays her role, we could be very successful.”

        A point guard's value is often determined by contributions made in big games. In that case, sophomore Christian Stefanopoulos could be the key through a schedule full of difficult opponents.

        “We play a pretty tough schedule,” Cecil said. “We've already played two tough scrimmages. But if we can weather (the schedule) and do what we're supposed to do, we should be all right.”

        Ripberger is a little more ambitious.

        “We want to go down to state, so our goal again is to win the region,” she said. “And I think we can do it if everybody plays her role.”

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