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Complete team effort helped turn girls basketball around season

Sure, Northwestern seniors Sabrina Mertz and Sarah Segan, both Colonial League Second Team all-stars, are two of the main reasons in how the Northwestern girls basketball turned around its season.

But the Tigers realize that without each and every one of their players, from the JV squad all the way up, none of that success would have been possible.

After starting the season 0-3 in the Colonial League, the Tigers entered this week on the brink of a spot in the District 11 Class AAA championships. They have to get by No. 1 seed Bethlehem Catholic in a semifinal match up, but the Tigers have already surpassed plenty of expectations with their appearance in the Colonial League title game.

None of that would have been possible without a complete team effort up and down the Tigers' lineup.

"They're a huge part, including the JV girls who push us every day at practice," Mertz said "You can't look at me and Segan as the only people because we would be nothing without our whole entire team.

"We push each other all the time. So many people push each other and work so hard. That's really all a coach can ask for-hard work and encouraging your teammates."

It takes a disciplined, unselfish team to turn around a season and advance this far in postseason play. The Tigers are the epitome of that.

Their top three scorers (Mertz, Segan and junior Erika Thomas) are as balanced as any trio in the area, all averaging between 10 and 12 points per game.

Thomas started for the Tigers last year as a sophomore and was the first player off the bench as a freshman.

"Our coaches really emphasize the value of teamwork," Thomas said. "Throughout the season we've really learned that. In the beginning of the season, we weren't really playing that well as a team and it hurt us."

Each player knows her role on the team, too, with no one stepping out of her comfort zone trying to do too much.

Lauren Anderson is the only other senior on this squad and has provided plenty of leadership this season, both on and off the court. Thomas and Megan Landrigan, another junior, are two of the top shooters that have made the Tigers one of the more feared teams from three-point range.

Junior Mikaela Koenig has gained valuable experience in the starting lineup, while junior McKenzi Divers, freshman Jessica Williamson and freshman Leighanna Lister have provided plenty of spark off the bench.

"Everybody was really welcoming, and they made me feel like I was a part of the team from day one," Thomas said. "We definitely try to encourage the younger girls, too. We have a couple girls that are freshmen that are going to step up and be really key players for us next year."

And then there are the two unquestioned leaders. Mertz, who leads the Tigers with 11.6 points per game, is their best ball-handler, driver and shot creator. Segan, who is right behind with 11.5 points a contest, causes havoc defensively on both the wing and in the paint.

The two, who have started since their freshman year, are now the unquestioned leaders for the first time in their careers.

"I remember when I was a freshman and sophomore looking up to [older players] a lot," Mertz said. "I was looking to them for advice, looking to them for what to do, and how they're reacting in the game. For us to be that, it's a great feeling to know that people are looking up to you."

Regardless of the result in Wednesday's semifinals, which were not available at time of press, the Tigers will have already put together one of their famous runs of solid basketball come postseason time.

A win, however, would be even that more sweet. It would give the Tigers their first opportunity at winning districts since they did it in 2006 in the Class AA tournament.

PRESS PHOTOS BY LINDA ROTHROCK Mikaela Koenig (above, 20) is one of several players that help make the Tigers a complete team. Freshman Leighanna Lister (right, 32) and several other underclassmen will be key components of the Lady Tiger over the next three years.