Field hockey continues to improve
Northwestern Lehigh reached the PIAA field hockey tournament for the second straight season, this time as district champions. The district gold is the school’s first since 2004 and comes on the heels of being district runners-up last season. While the program is quickly gaining respect and seeing better results in the postseason, it hasn’t come overnight.
Head coach Lissa Opolsky took over the program in 2014 after the team had missed reaching districts in each of the past two seasons. Opolsky didn’t bring any magic potions with her and the Tigers again missed districts in 2014.
The first step came in 2015 when the Tigers reached districts, but were quickly dismissed in the first round. They reached the semifinals in 2016, but fell back slightly the next season when they again were knocked out in round one.
Along the way, something clicked and the foundation started to be put in place for what would become this year’s district championship team.
“Starting a few years ago, the girls really took hold to what I was trying to get them to do as far as preparing in the summer and understanding field hockey from an x-and-o perspective,” said Opolsky. “Those who have graduated and gone on to play at Division 2 and a few at Division 1, sort of set the tone for these girls that are here now.
“Now, we finally have a class with two seniors and a boat load of juniors who really grabbed onto that and they’ve set the tone for everyone underneath them; it’s really been a snowball effect.”
Ally Myers, one of those two seniors on this year’s team, noticed the transition and was a part of the program developing the way that it has. She sees things from a player’s perspective that she believes have contributed to the success.
“I think that in recent years, we’ve really connected and we’re more like a family and we work together and we all connect really well,” said Myers after scoring the game-winning goal in the district title game. “We just really bonded and we wanted to get back here this season, so we all just worked really hard to get back and get to the gold.”
All along, Opolsky has attempted to convey the feeling of winning a championship and give her players the knowledge of everything that goes into being a championship team. She was a state champion as an assistant coach at Crestwood High School.
“Being here last year and not getting the result that we wanted, we were like a deer in headlights because we hadn’t been here and that experience, you can’t replicate no matter how much you tell them,” said Opolsky. “I knew what it was going to feel like because I’ve been here before, but for teenagers, those emotions are all over the place and that back story of having that last year was huge today because it was a completely different demeanor, mindset, everything and the outcome was different.”
In their trip to states last season, Northwestern had to travel to play District 1 champion New Hope in the first round and lost 2-0 as the team again went into uncharted territory in states. This time around, they had last years’ experience to draw from, much like they did in districts this season.
By virtue of being the district champion, Northwestern played closer to home, being matched up against Newport High School, the fifth-place team from District 3.
This turned out to not be the year that Northwestern would take that next step with a win in states, falling to the Buffaloes 3-0.