Just about every high school sports program goes through some down times. Northwestern had a few years where numbers were low and results showed it.
Those days seem to be over.
The Tigers returned to the district team tournament last season for the first time since 2010. They sent seven wrestlers to regionals and four to states last winter.
This year, with all but one of those regional qualifiers back with the team, the Tigers set a goal of winning their first district title sicne 2008.
After taking a step forward last season, the Northwestern boys basketball program looks to keep up the progress this year.
It won’t be easy. The Tigers graduated 10 seniors, including five of their top seven scorers from last season.
On the bright side, last year’s leading scorer is back in senior guard Parker Jones.
“Parker has to do everything for us,” said third-year head coach Billy Hallman. “He’s going to make us go. He was a starter last year and was really the main guy last year.”
Jones, a 5-10 guard, averaged 11.14 points last year.
It was the same formula that worked for Northwestern in the District 11 boys soccer title game. The Tigers played superb defense and made the most of a few scoring opportunities to beat Gettysburg 2-0 Saturday and advance to the PIAA Class AA semifinals.
“I said at halftime that the two things that are going to win this game are heart and execution,” said Northwestern head coach Nate Hunsicker. “We had two quality goal-scoring opportunities at the end there and we executed on them and that was the difference in the game.”
Northwestern’s road to the District 11 boys soccer championship didn’t start this season. It began last year with a young team that improved throughout the season and played its best in late fall.
This year’s team, with most of last year’s roster still intact, picked up right where last year’s team left off. Then went one step further.
The Tigers earned their first district boys soccer title since 2004 when they topped Salisbury, 2-0 last Thursday at Whitehall High School.
Coming into the season with nine of last year’s starters returning from a team that reached the league playoffs and district final last season, the goals were clear this season for Northwestern’s boys soccer team and they included league and district titles.
The Tigers achieved the first of those last Thursday, outlasting Moravian 1-0 in the Colonial League title game.
The Tigers capitalized on a corner play early in the first half and then got an outstanding effort from goal keeper Kyle Bellhorn.
When Northwestern suffered its first loss of the season last week, 1-0 to Salisbury, the team had to choose a path.
It could let the loss pull it downward or use it as learning experience and motivation.
The Tigers did the latter. They headed into Monday’s rescheduled contest against Moravian Academy, the only other unbeaten team in the Colonial League ready to erase the loss from their memory.
The did just that, beating the Lions 3-0 to remain the only undefeated team in the league. The loss to Salisbury was a nonleague game between the two league rivals.
Success can’t always by measures by wins and losses.
Sometimes it comes in the form of a tie.
Northwestern’s 1-1 tie against Northern Lehigh last week was a victory of the Tiger field hockey program.
“I think it could be a turning point for our season since they know what they can do and what kind of heart they could put into playing every game,” said Northwestern head coach Lissa Opolsky. “It could lead us to good things and good success in the end.
With three runners missing from the varsity line up, the Northwestern girls cross country team had to readjust its goals heading into the annual early-season DeSales Invitational.
Most years the Lady Tigers are looking to win it. This year, with two seniors taking SATs the day of the race and another senior resting an injury, the goal was a top-five finish Saturday in Center Valley.
Northern Valley isn't the kind of team that likes to make things easy.
Heading into their final four games of the season, the Chargers felt they needed at least two wins to secure a postseason berth. That remaining schedule included the league's last place team as well as three of the Lehigh Valley League's top four teams.
If there's one thing Len Smith wants to be remembered for, it's that the program has always been about the players. While he was at the helm for more than three decades, the team was always at the forefront.
That's why Smith kept it to himself all season. He had serious thoughts about retiring from coaching early in preseason, but he didn't share those thoughts until well after the season.
"This isn't about me," he said. "This is about the kids. I didn't want the focus during the season to be on me. I wanted the focus to be on the kids."