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Seniors stay calm despite deficit

Facing adversity for the first time in the District 11 playoffs, and for one of the few times all season, Northwestern girls soccer head coach Kelly Bleam didn’t know how her team would respond.

It turns out, all she had to do was ask some of her seniors.

Because despite facing a 2-1 halftime deficit, the confidence of the Tiger players never wavered.

Their attitude translated into a collective ‘We got this.’

And they did.

Maggie Motolese and Sara Hathaway scored goals in the first nine minutes of the second half as Northwestern rallied for a 3-2 victory over Palisades to capture the District 11 Class 2A championship.

“I wasn’t confident at all at halftime. I was nervous,” said Bleam. “We hadn’t faced many deficits the entire season, and I can’t remember us coming back to win a game this season when we trailed at the half.

“We just didn’t play like ourselves in the first half. I challenged them to play like they were capable. I’m proud of how they did that. But they had me worried in the first half.”

But as nervous as Bleam was about whether her team could turn things around after intermission, Tiger seniors’ Abby Chisdak, Jess Williamson and McKenna Amey didn’t seem to share that concern.

To a player, they said they were confident they would come back.

“We were upset at halftime. But we were also motivated,” said Chisdak, who scored the Tigers’ first goal of the night. “We knew we could play better and that we had worked too hard for this to let it slip away.

“We were confident when we came back on the field for the second half that we were going to find a way to win it.”

Williamson, who assisted on the first two goals for Northwestern (18-3-1), said as a senior captain and leader, she wanted to make sure everyone knew that losing wasn’t an option.

“When we walked back on the field to start the second half, we got together and I told everyone that we were going to win this,” said Williamson. “The seniors on this year’s team were freshman when we won our last district championship. That was so great to be a part of and I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure we got to experience that again.

“I tried to do that with both my words and my play. I talked to the underclassmen and tried to keep them focused and confident, and I also tried to lead by my example on the field.”

Tiger goalie Amey also has fond memories of that 2014 district title her freshman year. Like Chisdak and Williamson, she didn’t want that to her only championship at Northwestern.

“The players were talking before the second half started and we all believed we could do it,” said Amey. “Maggie’s goal early in the second half was huge and then when Sara gave us the lead, I knew I was going to do anything I had to make it hold up.

“When the game ended, it was such a great feeling. Every emotion you have just explodes when the final horn sounds, the crowd is going crazy, and you know you’ve won a district championship. It was amazing.”

Actually the Northwestern student section began its celebration even before the final horn sounded.

With less than a minute remaining, the Tiger student body began a loud and enthusiastic version of the “I believe that we will win” cheer.

It appears that was something the Tiger players knew much earlier.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZThe Northwestern senior class celebrated a district title as freshman and again this year.