SYRACUSE — The pitch at Wawasee High School featured a regular season finale between two Northern Lakes Conference foes Thursday night. The Warriors welcomed in NorthWood in a sectional preview, of sorts. The two conference rivals will turn right around and play each other this coming Thursday in the semifinals of the Warsaw Sectional. NorthWood made its mark in round one with a 4-1 decision.
“We’ve been talking since day one about how we need to be peaking at the end of the season,” explained NorthWood head coach Phillip Ummel. “Today was not as good as it could’ve or should’ve been for us. We’ll focus on fixing some things this week so we’ll be ready for the sectional.”
Ummel’s group was far from flawless, but the Panthers strung together quality moments in order to pull out the victory.
Avery Bontrager gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead, off an assist from Cindy Barahona, around the 10-minute mark in the first half. Wawasee was able to respond very quickly, almost immediately, as Meg Heinisch found the back of the net to even things up 1-1. Betsy Nunemaker put NorthWood back on top with a goal later in the first half. The Panthers carried a 2-1 lead into the break.
Coming out of halftime, things did not get any easier for the Warriors. NorthWood was able to break away several times, as it did in the first half, and create problems for Wawasee’s defense. Brittani Shields and Barahona each scored a goal in the final 40 minutes.
“I think what went wrong is still more about us than our opponent,” said Wawasee head coach Doug Heinisch. “We’re still struggling with some things like trapping and connecting on passes. We had some nice moments and we played hard. The effort is never an issue for us.
“Defensively we have to be better prepared to handle NorthWood’s runs when we see them again. We lost them on a couple of plays, we were probably up a little too far, just out of position.”
With the loss, Wawasee falls to 0-7 in NLC play and 5-11 overall. NorthWood improves to 6-7-2 overall and 1-5-1 in conference competition. Wawasee’s Kayla White recorded four saves in goal.
Now that the two teams have seen one another, the coaches had their own thoughts to share on playing again.
“It could either way,” Ummel said when asked about if it benefited his team to play the same team back-to-back. “We’re not going to worry about Wawasee. We know they’ll come play hard, I expect to see their best game. We need to respond by giving out best.”
Heinisch was hoping to pick up his team’s first conference win Thursday night, but he’s not discouraged with another chance on the horizon. The coach was brief but confident, “In our position, this helps. It helps that we’ll see them again.”
Wawasee and NorthWood will play Thursday night at the Warsaw Soccer Complex in the first of two semifinals.
NorthWood won the JV game 1-0.