Field hockey reaches district title game
Lissa Opolsky didn’t have to look far for a reminder.
“We looked up at the board that’s on our field the other day when we were practicing, and the last district championship that’s posted on there is from 2004,” said the Northwestern field hockey head coach.
The Tigers moved one step closer to ending that drought on Monday, powering past Wilson 4-0 in the District 11 Class A semifinals.
Northwestern will play No. 1 seed Lehighton in the final.
“It means a lot,” said Opolsky. “It’s been a long time coming, and these girls have been working super hard, so to have that result, and a dominant result against a good team, is awesome.”
“I’m pretty critical, so I’m always going to say that there’s stuff to work on, and things like that. But we play with a lot of grit and determination, and when we’re not playing our best hockey, that gets us through. So I think right now we’re playing really, really good hockey. But I think we still have stuff to work on, and things that we’re going to get better at, and that’s going to propel us into what we have to come.”
The seventh-seeded Tigers seem to be hitting their stride after knocking off No. 2 seed and defending champion Moravian Academy 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
Two first-half goals from Rachel Koerner gave Northwestern an early lead — and momentum.
“It was super important,” Opolsky said of the 2-0 halftime lead. “We know that Wilson has two great players in Ava (Mariani) and Allison (Horton), and containing them is our No. 1 priority.
“We know they’re going to get their chances, but they played as a team, and played good defense, which is what we honed in on. So that lead was good, and then the icing on the cake was being able to hold them without (any goals).”
Goalies Taylor Page and Alena Smargiassi combined to preserve the shutout for the Tigers.
“It’s incredible,” said Smargiassi. “You know going in that you want to have that confidence to win. But putting up a zero is something different.”
“A lot of it goes out to our defense,” added Page. “They’ve been playing amazing around us. They knew we had a lot of really good players going up against us. And they were ready for it, to give us the best opportunities possible to make the saves.”
Sydney Derr scored twice early in the second half to push Northwestern’s lead to 4-0. Derr slammed the ball into the back of the cage with 27:45 remaining, and added another goal less than two minutes later to pad the Tigers’ advantage.
“I think we just had a lot of confidence that we could do it,” said Derr. “We’ve been working so hard for this, that we knew we could do it.
“I feel like we’re working so good as a team this year, and we’re really communicating more.”
Northwestern has displayed a balanced attack through its first two district games, with four different players accounting for the team’s six goals.
But it was the Tigers’ seniors that helped deliver the win against No. 3 seed Wilson.
“We have good players all over the field, and we’re balanced,” said Opolsky. “So it’s really hard to play against us with that.
“But in this game, particularly, our seniors stepped up. Sydney and Rachel are seniors, Alena and Taylor are seniors. So they held them without, and they scored the goals when we needed them.”
The Warriors had a chance to cut into the deficit with a penalty stroke after Derr tacked on her second goal.
But Horton’s shot went wide, keeping Northwestern’s lead at 4-0 with under 20 minutes to play.
The Class 1A final between Northwestern and Lehighton will be held Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Whitehall High School.
Moravian had won the last two Class A titles.
Northwestern beat Wilson 3-1 on Sept. 12.
TICKET PUNCHED ... The victory in the district semifinals also clinched a berth in the state playoffs for the Tigers. Two teams from Class 1A advance to the PIAA postseason, which open on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Northwestern won a state championship in 1990.