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NW sports teams having success on new turf field

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    Northwestern soccer player Aidan Meyers (5) stretches for the ball during a recent game. The Tigers’ boys soccer, girls soccer, field hockey and football teams are all enjoying success this season playing on the school’s new turf field. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published October 02. 2019 01:28PM

During the construction of the ice rink for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a construction worker buried a Canadian coin in the concrete where center ice would be. He did it in the hopes of bringing good luck to his beloved Canadian hockey team, which hadn’t won a gold medal since 1952.

As it turned out, “Oh, Canada” was played as the gold medal Canadian hockey team was saluted at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Perhaps one of the construction workers laying the new turf at Tiger Stadium was a Northwestern Lehigh grad and put some sort of lucky charm of his own under the turf at midfield. The field has turned out to give the Northwestern fall sports teams a true home field advantage this season.

Girls soccer (14-1-0), boys soccer (11-3-2), field hockey (10-3-1) and football (5-1) are all having big seasons, with both soccer teams and the field hockey team having wrapped up a spot in both the Colonial League playoffs and in districts.

A closer look at the home records of the teams shows it has definitely helped their causes. The four teams have combined to go 22-3-0 at home, with girls soccer being 7-1-0, and boys soccer and field hockey both going 6-1-0 at home. The Tigers football team is 3-0 on their home turf.

“There’s absolutely excitement; it’s so hard to contain,” said field hockey coach Lissa Opolsky of her team’s experience on the new turf. “For field hockey, the game is severely affected based on the surface that it is played on. It has allowed us to play a smoother game, with the ability to transition the ball all over the field.”

Granted, the teams have had success in the recent past. Field hockey was the district runner-up last season and qualified for states. The boys soccer team played in the PIAA finals in both 2016 and 2017, while the girls soccer team was the District 11 champion in 2017. Last season, Northwestern football made it to the semifinals of districts, before being downed by Saucon Valley.

Still, it’s hard to deny that the teams are all having very successful seasons. For example, the boys soccer team failed to reach states last season after its two previous runs to Hershey. This season, the team is one of four class 3A teams in District 11, with 11 wins heading down the stretch.

“It’s exciting,” said boys soccer coach Nate Hunsicker just before the start of the season. “With the brand of soccer that we have and the caliber of players we have, it really fits their mold and fits the style of soccer that we like to play. We have a lot of technical players, and I think it might make some of those players even better.”

Another plus is the fact that most of the fields used in the postseason are turf fields. This season, teams will have greater familiarity with playing on turf than they’ve had going into the postseason in previous years.

Girls soccer coach Kelly Bleam is happy with how her team has played on its home turf, and is excited about not having to adjust to a different surface for the playoffs. “Preparing on and playing often on the turf is great preparation for the postseason, in addition to it providing the team with a quality surface for each game.”

Perhaps the biggest factor for teams on the new turf is having fewer injuries. Northwestern football had most of their injuries in camp as they prepared for the season, even before the turf was ready to practice on. They also had a couple injuries in the season opener at Notre Dame-Green Pond, a grass field.

“I think it helps, especially if the weather gets bad, and late in the season when the field would be all torn up,” said coach Josh Snyder. “Injuries are always part of the game, and you’ll have them no matter what surface you play on, but I think you can lessen the odds with turf.”

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MIGHTY BAYLEE … Tamaqua girls’ soccer goalkeeper Baylee Reinhardt is one of the key components to the Blue Raiders current five-game winning streak. Over the last week, Reinhardt — and her supporting defensive cast — have posted three shutouts, running her number on the season up to six. The Blue Raiders’ keeper recorded shutouts against Blue Mountain, Palmerton and North Schuylkill last week.

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SATURDAY SPECIAL … There seemed to be a special on hat tricks this past Saturday, as three different players in two different sports rattled off three-goal games.

Josh Zellner of Northwestern boys’ soccer, Thor Muth of Jim Thorpe boys’ soccer, and Kaleena Craig of Lehighton field hockey, all recorded hat tricks in wins for their respective programs.

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DOUBLE THE PLEASURE … Speaking of hat tricks, the Palmerton field hockey team got a pair of them during the past week. On Wednesday, Ana Recker scored three times in a win over Salisbury. Monday night, teammate Molly Mihalko accomplished the feat in a win over Wilson. It was definitely a case of double the pleasure, double the fun for the Bomber stickers.

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AMAZING GRACE … Tamaqua’s Grace Stegermerten had an exceptional cross country week. Stegermerten recorded a pair of first-place finishers. The Blue Raider finished first in a Schuylkill League meet during the week, and then on Saturday recorded a first-place finish in the Pine Grove Invitational in which her Blue Raiders’ girls’ team captured the team title.

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CRUNCH TIME … The next two weeks are huge for the Jim Thorpe boys’ soccer team. The Olympians sit at 7-2 in the Schuylkill League Division I, right behind Pine Grove (8-1). The Olympians are fresh off a 3-1 week, in which they knocked off Northern Lehigh, Lehighton and Pottsville, while dropping a close 1-0 decision to Blue Mountain.

Meanwhile, in the District 11 Class 2A power rankings, the Olympians are currently in first place with a 10-2 overall record. In second place is Pine Grove, currently 9-3 overall.

The Olympians and Cardinals face each other tonight in Pine Grove in a match that will have huge league and district ramifications.

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