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Tigers to face Bombers in field hockey championship

It’s not very surprising, but the Northwestern Lehigh and Palmerton field hockey teams are going to again face each other this season.

It will be the fourth meeting of the two teams and this time is for a district championship.

Northwestern won the first of two regular season meetings and then lost the second meeting. The Tigers also eliminated by Palmerton in the semifinals of the Colonial League tournament.

Both teams survived the District 11 Class A semifinals as Palmerton downed Moravian Academy and the Tigers beat Wilson 4-1 in a rematch of last season’s district final.

After the loss in the league semis Northwestern had two weeks off. Head coach Lissa Opolsky apparently made the right choice in giving her team some time off from practice. The players agreed that the time off made a difference, and they were able to focus on academics and find a little time to just relax before having to face Wilson.

“We took some time off and we rested a little bit,” said Opolsky. “They had a Friday and a Monday off to keep the weekend a little bit long and it was good for them. They’re pretty intelligent kids and have some hard classes, so they needed to do some academic stuff as well. When we regrouped, we focused on some of our strategy and varying some of our structures, which we were able to implement in the game tonight.”

Wilson’s Payton Herncane was able to poke her stick through a bundle of players right in front of the goal, to give Wilson a 1-0 lead, which served to spur on the Tigers.

Northwestern had little time to think about the 1-0 deficit thanks to Taylor Langley, who scored with 5:18 left in the first quarter to knot the game at 1-1. The game remained tied until Cara Thomas scored the first of her two goals almost five minutes into the second quarter.

“It was just kind of messy around the goal and Carsyn [Van Norman] got her stick on the ball and tipped it to me and I was right in front of the goal to tip it in,” said Thomas. “We worked really well together to get that easy one.”

The remainder of the second and all except :41 of the third quarter went by with neither team gaining a distinct advantage. With time running down in the third, there was again a battle near the goal cage and this time Van Norman took the shot herself and put it past goalie Annalisse McAuliffe to give the Tigers a 3-1 advantage.

“I think we really needed this game to get a confidence boost after the Palmerton game [in districts],” said Van Norman. “We had two weeks off and having this game going into a championship against Palmerton again, I think we really needed that.”

Playing with more of a defensive mind set, Northwestern gave Wilson few opportunities to challenge goalkeeper Emma Yanders. As time started to grow small, Thomas put in her second goal of the night just to put the exclamation point on the game, as the Tigers moved to a 4-1 lead with five minutes left to play.

“We realized coming into this game that we’re guaranteed nothing and that it was do or die and that really motivated us,” said Thomas. “I think we have things turned around and are ready for the rest of the playoffs.”

Northwestern came in as the number-one seed in the tournament and had a first-round bye before having to play the semifinal game against Wilson, who came in as the fourth seed and defeated fifth seeded Lehighton in the quarterfinal round of districts.

“I thought they would be pretty relentless and want some revenge from last year, so I wasn’t surprised by the way they started,” said Opolsky. “I was hoping that we would start a little quicker, but we got it together and produced, so that’s all that matters at this point in the season. We had some really good passing connections, and this is a good game to build off heading into Thursday [the district finals].”

By virtue of reaching the district finals, Northwestern qualifies for the PIAA tournament which begins next week. Winning gold at districts would give the Tigers a slightly easier path through states and keep them closer to home for the first round or two.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ The Tigers' Hannah Gober controls the ball during her team's district semifinal win over Wilson.