Just call them marathon men.
Three matches. One day. And almost a fourth.
Northwestern once again went through the gauntlet at the District 11 Team Championships Saturday at Freedom High School.
Only this time, the Tigers were unable to successfully navigate the same course they charted a year ago at Joseph J. McIntyre Gymnasium.
After losing to Saucon Valley 63-9 in the championship semifinals, Northwestern responded with a 42-30 win to bounce Pen Argyl and advance to the consolation final.
But Northwestern’s run ended there.
Northwestern needed a spark.
Ezra Neff had just claimed a critical decision for Northern Lehigh to tie Tuesday’s Colonial League wrestling match with just three bouts remaining.
Colin Rex and Tyler Derr gave the Tigers the jolt they were looking for.
The duo came up with back-to-back pins to put Northwestern ahead and help secure a 43-28 win over Northern Lehigh.
Northwestern head coach Billy Hallman didn’t hesitate when talking about his team.
“We’re excited,” Hallman said. “We have a lot of young guys. It’s almost like a fresh beginning.”
Though the Tigers will have to replace four of their top five scorers from last year’s squad, Hallman has no shortage of talent to work with. Headlining the group is senior Robert Seyfried, who averaged a team high 14.3 points per game last season.
“He goes out there and he plays 110 percent,” Hallman said of Seyfried. “I’ve never seen him take a play off, and he’s going to out-work people.”
Expectations are understandably high for this season’s Northwestern wrestling team. The Tigers are coming off a year that included a spot in the PIAA team dual tournament and an individual state medalist performance by Caleb Clymer.
Northwestern’s renaissance appears to be on track to continue this season, with several talented wrestlers back in the fold and the team’s lineup drawing statewide recognition.
But for the success to continue, head coach Jim Moll knows the Tigers can’t rest on their laurels.
Northwestern girls’ head coach Chris Deutsch is preaching patience with this season’s squad.
The Lady Tigers have just one senior on the roster, Paige Stitzel, and lose last year’s leading scorer, Erika Thomas.
But Deutsch won’t be starting from scratch, as many of the players on this year’s team saw significant playing time a year ago, when Northwestern went 16-9 overall and qualified for the Colonial League and District 11 tournaments.
Northwestern’s recipe for success this season has consisted largely of sound defending and ball control.
And timely scoring.
The Tigers utilized the formula once again in Tuesday’s PIAA Class AAA first round game to top Athens, 1-0.
“Possession and solid defense in the back has been our bread and butter all year long,” Northwestern head coach Nathan Hunsicker said. “We don’t score a ton of goals, but we always seem to get one more than the other guys, so that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”
There were no medals for Northwestern after the PIAA Cross Country Championships. But there was plenty for the Tigers to be proud of.
Sophomore Madeline Consuelos placed 36th (20:24) and junior Molly Tarvin 62nd (20:51) in the Class 2A girls’ race, while juniors Robert Leiser took 48th (17:34) and Phillip Castrine 78th (17:53) in the AA boys’ race.
Competing at the state meet without a team for the first time since 2010, Consuelos and Tarvin left with extra motivation to return with a full squad next year.
Chris Stitzel knew it would happen at some point.
As the Northwestern cross country coach entered the 2016 campaign, he was well-aware that the 129-0 streak his girls carried into the season wouldn’t and couldn’t last forever.
“I know it’s going to end eventually, but we’re trying to enjoy it for as long as we can,” he said before the start of the season. “I don’t like to bring it up because I don’t want to put pressure on them. But they are aware of it.”
The streak, which started on Oct. 13, 2010, was halted at the hands of Southern Lehigh in September.
It’s hard to predict how a team will respond to a loss.
But if Northwestern’s District 11 Class 2A girls’ soccer quarterfinal against Lehighton is any indication, the Tigers will be just fine.
After falling to Southern Lehigh in penalty kicks in the Colonial League semifinals last week, Northwestern bounced back Tuesday with a 7-0 victory to move on to the semifinals.
The Tigers will face Salisbury, which earned an 8-0 quarterfinal win over Tamaqua, Thursday in the semis.
The Northwestern and Southern Lehigh girls’ soccer teams are no strangers to success.
The two programs have combined to win the last three Colonial League tournament titles, with the Spartans topping the Tigers for last year’s crown.
Back-to-back championships seemed unlikely for Southern Lehigh, which lost many of its top play makers from last season’s squad.
These Spartans might not be last year’s team. But Tuesday night, they proved they still know how to get the job done.