The Northview girls soccer team this year has already made school history by earning a berth in the Division I state semifinals, and the Wildcats have no intentions of stopping now.
Northview defeated Wadsworth 1-0 in penalty kicks last Saturday to win a regional title. The Wildcats (13-4-2) next face a Strongsville (19-2-0) team that has a steeped postseason tradition.
The Mustangs are making their 10th trip to the state semifinals and won state titles in 1998, 2002, 2005. They lost in the semifinals last year.
The Wildcats reached the regional from 2007-09, including the final in 2008 and '09. But this is the first time any team from the Northern Lakes League has made it to the state tournament.
The teams meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Sandusky High School for the right to play for the state title Saturday in Columbus.
"It is truly exciting," Northview coach Rick Burgin said. "It's an amazing feeling knowing what lies before us and what we can accomplish. The girls know that. They know what they've done. But we are not satisfied. We've come this far. We'll keep giving it our all."
Burgin said there is a lot of electricity surrounding the program, which has never reached the final four but still has plenty of postseason experience.
"It's not just for the players on the team but for the school, the parents, and the community," he said.
Northview also reached the regional final from 2000-02 and district final from 2003-06. Last year, Northview lost to Perrysburg in the district final and the Yellow Jackets lost in the regional final.
"We talk constantly about tradition," Burgin said. "We talk about what the players brought before them and the standards they set. It's very important to uphold that."
But he also said the team has talked about raising the bar.
"They can do something to separate themselves from all the other teams," Burgin said.
Prior to this season, St. Ursula Academy was the only girls team from northwest Ohio to reach the state final four. The Arrows made it to the state semifinal in 2004. But aside from Northview, St. Ursula has made it back this season in Division II and Archbold has qualified in Division III.
"How tremendous is that?" Burgin said. "We are definitely starting to prove soccer in northwest Ohio can compete with the best in the state."
He said his team is now playing up to its potential and peaking at the right time.
"We've found a way to persevere," he said. "They have a lot of confidence and believe in one another. When they play for their teammates and not themselves, great things happen."
Northview defeated Wadsworth in the shootout as Ashley Ingle scored the game winner in the regional final. Burgin said it is unfortunate that such important games are determined by penalty kicks.
"Nobody likes to win or lose that way," he said. "You'd love to see the game settled on the field."
The Wildcats also knocked off NLL champion Perrysburg 1-0 in the regional semifinals. To reach the regional level, Northview defeated Central Catholic (6-1) and Anthony Wayne (1-0) in the district tournament.
Burgin said a key to the run has been the leadership of his eight seniors.
Senior Courtney Hendrix, who will play next season at Bowling Green State University, has scored a team-high 15 goals to go along with seven assists. She scored the game winners against Anthony Wayne and Perrysburg.
"She is special," Burgin said. "One thing that you love about her is that she has a nose for the goal. It's tough to find a player who wants to take on players. But she is unselfish and humble. Her drive is to do whatever she can to help the team."
Senior Brooke Snead is second on the team with 10 goals and nine assists. Senior Stephanie Jenkins, who is primarily a defensive player, has five goals. Jenkins is a team captain along with senior Sam Sarmento, who anchors the defense.
The biggest surprise has been the play of junior goalie Alexis Bielski, who took over just before the season started when Kelly Shoemaker tore her ACL. Bielski has a 1.00 goals against average.
But 11 of the 19 goals scored against the Wildcats came in the first six games.
"She was always a field player. It shows you how much she has grown," Burgin said. "She's an athlete."
In its five playoff wins the Wildcats are outscoring their foes 13-1.
But the Mustangs, who have won 15 straight games, are a formidable foe. They've won five postseason games by a combined score of 21-2. Strongsville finished the season ranked No. 2 behind top ranked Perrysburg in the state poll.
The Mustangs have six players that have scored 10 or more goals this season led by Ashley Meier (17) and Emily Ogle (13). Goalie Kelly Lamb has a 0.71 goals against average. Burgin said the Wildcats must contain Meier.
"They are a national powerhouse," Burgin said. "We know we have a big task at hand. They are a strong team, top to bottom. But we're confident in the way we're playing. We will defend well and hope to get a break and move on to the finals."