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NW field hockey gains attention

Nobody took Northwestern field hockey seriously last season and the Tigers were just fine with that. The end result was a trip to the District 11 finals and a chance to play in states.

This season, opposing teams know just how good Northwestern is and they’re taking them much more seriously. It still hasn’t bothered the Tigers, who have gone 10-3-1 overall and 9-3-1 in the Colonial League.

With the season winding down, the Tigers have punched their ticket to both the league and district playoffs where they hope to not just play in the finals, but win a championship.

“Obviously, we hope our end result is similar to last year,” said Northwestern head coach Lissa Opolsky. “But between now and then, we have to take care of everything in between. We don’t focus on the end because we want to focus on what we’re doing day-to-day.”

In its last three games, Northwestern has allowed just one goal and that came late in a blowout against Salisbury with the Tigers already up 6-0.

Tess Ledeboer, Greenleigh McGehee and Lauren Schellhamer all scored twice against the Falcons after Reagan Hernandez got the scoring started on a penalty corner to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead just seven minutes into the game.

As good as her team is, Opolsky wasn’t sure what to expect against Salisbury since it fell on homecoming weekend with a number of other things going on at the school.

There was some concern that a game against a struggling team might see some of the team’s focus shifted to other activities. Not so for this team.

“They’ve had a lot of other factors fighting for their attention, so the fact that they were able to come here today and really focus shows the mentality that we hope for in games moving forward, because that’s going to impact seeding for the playoffs and how we play in the playoffs,” said Opolsky of her team, which features just two seniors and a junior class of nine players.

Ledeboer, one of those juniors, knows that a team’s focus can be pulled in other directions and the players are guarding against that as the playoffs approach.

“We need to keep our mentality straight,” Ledeboer said. “We struggled with that a little last week. But we’ve bounced back from that. We just need to practice hard and play hard in games and the rest will take care of itself.”

Ledeboer pointed out that the team’s three losses have all come against tough teams in Bangor, Southern Lehigh and Moravian Academy, and that they’re looking forward to any potential rematches with those teams in the playoffs.

The target that the team has on its back from its success last season adds some pressure, but it’s nothing that the players can’t handle.

“It’s kind of difficult, but we don’t really think about that,” said Ledeboer. “We just face it one game at a time and whoever we knock down on the way, we don’t worry about.

“Our three losses were all against tough teams, so we’re hoping to just keep bouncing back and maybe even win against those teams in the playoffs.”

Teams can learn a lot about themselves in losses and for Opolsky, how the team handled those losses has been a source of pride in her team this season.

“It’s been a really long time since Northwestern has had a target on its back and they don’t really know how to deal with that yet, so that’s one of those factors when there are tough games,” said Opolsky. “The games have been really close, win or lose, and they’ve handled themselves well and have played well in those games, so you just hope going down the line that the experience and understanding you gained helps.

“They’re great girls who are disappointed when you lose points. They’ve been raised to be great adults and it’s a pleasure to coach them.”

PRESS PHOTO BY RICH GEORGENorthwestern's Emilie Schultz chases down a ball during the Tigers' recent win over Palmerton.