The Northview girls soccer team is all about having fun while getting the job done.
The spirited chatter between drills at practices indicates a loose bunch. But the friendly banter quickly changes when preparation resumes and the Wildcats are all business.
Tight team chemistry and methodical ways have led to a decade of dominance in the Northern Lakes League. Northview has captured 11 of the last 12 league titles. The Wildcats went undefeated (7-0-0) through stiff league competition.
"We have a good bond," said junior forward Courtney Hendrix, the team's leading scorer with 16 goals and 12 assists. "It's not serious all the time. We like to mess around here and there but once we get started we focus on what we need to do."
Northview coach Rick Burgin calls it an unselfish attitude and a winning culture.
"This team has quality players who play well together," Burgin said. "They're connecting well. It's real simple. You have to be playing for everyone else and not yourself. That way you will play at a higher level. You don't want to let anyone down. When you do that then all of a sudden the heart is involved. And it means a lot more."
The Wildcats (14-4-0) were ranked No. 8 in the final Division I state coaches poll.
Senior defender Nicole Hobbs said reaching that level takes intense practices.
"But it's worth it," Hobbs said. "We are all sisters here. We all trust each other."
Senior goalie Lexi Fisher said knowing her teammates will do their jobs helps her relax.
"We have great team chemistry that can't be beat," Fisher said. "We have to be able to have fun because if you're not having fun, there's no point in playing the game."
The Wildcats have reached the Division I regional tournament three straight years. They reached the regional final in 2008 and 2009. Northview lost to eventual state champion Medina last season. The Wildcats reached the regional final from 2000-02 and district final from 2003-06.
Fisher said when she was younger, she was a ball girl at the varsity games.
"I couldn't wait to come to the program and be a part of something this successful and be a part of the tradition," Fisher said. "I looked up to all those girls that came before us."
Senior Chelsea Nye also said the high standard brings extra motivation.
"We have expectations to live up to and we don't settle for less," said Nye, who has four goals and seven assists. "We have to push ourselves. When it's time to work, we work. But we have downtimes and we relax."
Hendrix missed last season with a torn ACL. She has bolstered a lineup that features seven seniors who have played well, according Burgin.
Nye has played every position but goalkeeper. Hobbs, a captain, has been strong in the back. Senior forward Haley Gasser is one of three four-year starters and has tallied seven goals.
Fisher gave up just one goal in NLL play.
"She's been very consistent," Burgin said.
Northview has averaged 3.3 goals per game while giving up 1.2.
Others who have excelled include juniors Brooke Snead and Sam Sarmento. Two sophomores Laura Connor and Stephanie Duwve and freshman Ashley Ingle also start.
Snead is second on the team with 13 goals.
The Wildcats had won 10 straight NLL titles before Anthony Wayne knocked them off last year.
Hendrix said the team hopes it started a new lengthy streak in the NLL.
"Having the target on your back is a benefit because it gives you extra motivation to win. We want to prove we are the best," Hendrix said.
In order to be the best, Burgin said his nonleague schedule is packed with strong teams from out of the area.
"I basically want us to get beat so they can find a way [during the tournament]," Burgin said.
The team suffered back-to-back setbacks to two out-of-state teams, losing to Archbishop Spalding (Severn, Md.) 4-1 and Reitz Memorial (Evansville, Ind.) 5-2. Both are nationally ranked. The other two losses were against teams from outside northwest Ohio.
One of the team's biggest wins was a 2-0 shutout of Perrysburg, which finished second in the NLL.
No team in Northview history has reached the state semifinals.
"It feels good to be back on top," Nye said. "But to be the first to reach the final four would be the best."
When Burgin came to Northview in 2003, the program had already won four straight titles. He said tradition alone cannot win championships.
"But the coaching staff has set a standard and players play up to it," he said. "The kids want to be part of a winner and will do what it takes. We really preach about how fortunate we are. The alumni have set the standard. We just try to keep rolling."
The Wildcats are 8-0 on their home field at Timberstone Junior High School. The team opened tournament play with a 6-0 win over Bowsher there on Oct. 20.
"We want to stay together as long as we can as a team," Hobbs said.
The Wildcats then defeated Central Catholic 3-0 on Saturday to earn a berth in last night's district semifinal.
"We want to go out with a bang," Fisher said.
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