Girls soccer falls in state quarterfinal
State playoff competition often brings a bit of intrigue when teams cross district lines to face unfamiliar foes.
Northwestern’s quarterfinal opponent in this year’s PIAA Class 3A tournament brought some intrigue. The Tigers knew that 12-time state champ Villa Joseph Marie would be a difficult team to beat, but just how good the Jems were remained a mystery until they met on the field Saturday in New Tripoli.
Villa opened the scoring less than five minutes into the game, then added three more in the second half for a 4-0 win to advance to Tuesday’s state semifinals.
“Typically, Villa is exactly what they presented today,” said Northwestern head coach Kelly Bleam. “It’s a team that is bigger than us, stronger than us and faster than us. They’re just a tremendous opponent and one that is better than we are.”
The Jems took the lead when Madison Crozier slipped a shot past Tiger keeper Naomi Glassberg with 35:22 left in the first half.
Northwestern kept the margin at one goal throughout the first half despite the Jems earning three corners and getting off two shots as Glassberg and the Tiger defense did all they could to keep the game close.
“They were the best opponent we played,” said Northwestern forward Kylie Zentz. “They came out strong. They have really good combinations finishing. They’re just an all-around good team.”
The Tigers tried to get the ball up to Zentz, their leading scorer, the entire game but the Jems always had two or three defenders surrounding her when she received the ball.
Northwestern was able to get the ball forward at times and even got off a couple shots in the contest.
“I was actually real happy to see us combine a bit around them,” said Bleam, “and to be able to put some balls through and be able to get a couple opportunities. It’s very hard to score against a good keeper when you’re under pressure from a good defender. I love the fact that we got in and got a look.”
The undefeated Jems (14-0, District 1 champs) got their second goal just 1:31 into the second half when Kennedy Kilchrist received a perfect cross and knocked the ball past a defenseless Glassberg.
The Jems had no intentions of blowing the two-goal lead. They added another with 22:18 to play. A ball deflected off a Northwestern player into the net off a corner kick. The goal was credited to Katherine Sullivan, who inserted the ball on the corner.
Hensel capped the scoring with 16:55 left in the game, but it was the goal early in the second half that made it nearly impossible for the Tigers to come back.
The 2020 season saw Northwestern repeat as Colonial League and District 11 champs. This year’s team, under the leadership of senior co-captains Maggie Mauro, Bailey Scheffler, Kayla Bardonner, Alexa Bleam and Zentz, went 17-3-1 in 2020 and won league and district titles on its way to the state playoffs.
“It was a great season,” said Zentz. “We were district champs, league champs and I think we went out doing a good job. I hope future teams can do the same as we did.”
Bleam credited the seniors for leading the team through a season unlike any other.
“Truly, those five girls have been nothing less than fantastic,” she said. “You can’t say enough about a senior class like that. They’re all captains, all five of them. It was impossible to choose one of them. All five of them served as captains and all five of them led their team every day at practice and in every game.”
This year, measuring success is just as much about staying well and healthy as it is about winning games.
The Tigers played 21 games this fall, more than any other Colonial League team and possibly the most of any Lehigh Valley team. It is a testament to the team’s discipline and the plan coaches, trainers and school administrators put in place to deal with the COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m super proud of the girls for coming through the season without incident,” said Kelly Bleam. “They followed all the rules. They did what was expected of them. We didn’t have a single case, closure or incident on the team. They were able to put together an awesome game every game and come away with another two-championship season.”
After the game, Kelly Bleam told her team she was stepping down as head coach. She led the Tigers for 25 years and built one of the most successful programs in the Lehigh Valley.
“I can’t imagine my life without having done what I’ve done for the past 25 years,” she said. “It’s a blessing. And it’s not sadness. It’s really an overwhelming feeling of content for what it’s all been about.
“There are definitely going to be emotions that go with it because it has been such a wonderful part of my life and it is always going to be part of my life. I’ll still be teaching here. I’ll see the girls in school. I’ll be able to come out to some games.”