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Field hockey hopes to repeat

Northwestern Lehigh has some unfinished business to take care of in field hockey. The 2019 Colonial League playoffs saw Northwestern Lehigh exit in the semifinals with a double overtime, 3-2 loss to Southern Lehigh, but the Tigers weren’t thrown off course.

They rebounded to take gold in the District 11 playoffs, beating top-seeded Moravian Academy in another overtime thriller, this time coming out on the right side of a 2-1 game.

The unfinished part of the mission came in states where Northwestern lost in the opening round, leaving the Tigers hunting for a deeper run this season.

Last year’s district championship was the first for Northwestern Lehigh field hockey since 2004. Back then, the Lady Tigers won back-to-back District 11 titles. Under head coach Lissa Opolsky, the team has gradually become stronger and winning in districts was a definite milestone. Now, the trick is to turn that into consistency.

“We definitely have a target on our backs, which we knew would happen,” said Opolsky. “You could tell even last season that teams were taking us more seriously. This year we are returning champions, so we have to expect the competition to play us even harder.”

There are plenty of reasons to believe that the Lady Tigers have a shot at fulfilling their mission this season. One thing that will help this year’s team is that they lost just two seniors from last year’s roster and return with an experienced team boasting nine seniors on this year’s list of players.

The experience will go a long way toward helping the team look continue their run after finishing last season 17-6-1.

The Lady Tigers also have experience on the sidelines with Opolsky, who played at the University of Iowa, entering her seventh season as the team’s head coach.

The abbreviated schedule has a tough opening week for Northwestern. The season opens on the 19th with a game at Wilson before they return home for games against Palisades and Moravian Academy. Palisades qualified for both the league and district playoffs and Moravian Academy wound up with silver medals in both the Colonial League and in District 11 play.

“It’s going to be an early test for us because we’re jumping right in against some good teams and they’re going to be tough this season,” said Opolsky. “We’ll get a good look at just where we are early in the season and I think we’ll come through it okay.”

One of the question marks coming into last season was in goal. In 2018, Northwestern had two top-notch goalies – Taylor Page (Slippery Rock) and Alena Smargiassi (Connecticut) – who split time in goal for their senior season. With both graduating, the spotlight turned to Maxine Hoffman, who took over last season and erased any cause for concern. Hoffman is back for her senior season, giving the team a quality player in goal.

While COVID-19 made teams make a lot of adjustments, the fall sports program at Northwestern saw higher numbers than usual for players coming out to the voluntary workouts this summer, which were all run with plenty of precautions.

“We had more girls out this summer than we’ve ever had, and it was great,” said Opolsky. “When we couldn’t work together, we did Zoom meetings and gave the girls some drills to work on. It was on the honor system, but from the looks of things they all followed through and came in ready to go.”

The type of dedication that the players showed in preparing for the season should give them good odds of working through the difficult early season schedule and putting together a strong season.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Coming off it's first District 11 title since 2004, Northwestern looks to for continued success in the 2020 season.