A year ago, the Northwestern girls' cross country team had no problem running its way to a 23-1 Colonial League record.
But, by the end of the postseason, the Tigers wound up settling for league and District 11 Class 2A runners-up.
With reigning league and district champion Lindsay Kerr back for her senior year, the Northwestern harriers are well on their way to another successful season. Currently, the Tigers stand alone atop the CL at 9-0.
The Tigers want more and they're not settling for anything less.
"We know it's our last year here," Northwestern senior Megan Handwerk said. "It could be our last really strong season. So, we want to take it all."
Ramzy Burns, who is also in her final year in the program, echoed her classmate's high expectations.
"We're going for an undefeated season," Burns said. "We don't want to lose it now. So, we'll just keep working hard and make sure we can (keep winning) so we can keep our undefeated season alive. We're gonna bring home that gold."
After Kerr provided the majority of the guidance last season by staying ahead of the pack, Northwestern is looking to close the gaps a bit more between each Tiger in the midst of this season's action.
"We know what we have to do," Handwerk added. "We know we have to run with Lindsay Kerr and that's what we will do."
With the loss of Lindsay Herman and Karissa Bollinger, who often added top-10 finishes themselves, Northwestern head coach Chris Stitzel stated the team is going about things a bit differently this year.
"We knew Lindsey would be up there," Stitzel said. "But, we told the other girls that we have to run in packs more this year. Last year, we were separated a bit and that's what hurt us in leagues and districts.
"This year, every week it's a different girl up there (with Kerr). Once we get them all healthy and at the same level, we should have all of our top-five among the top-10 in the league. That's what we're hoping for when leagues come around."
A year ago, it was obvious Kerr was the center of the Tigers' team as she ran away with the league title.
But there was too much of a gap afterward. Teammate Katie Hallingstad followed next with an eighth-place finish, while Lindsay Herman came in 10th.
Natalie Boehm and Burns finished off the Tigers' top-five by finishing in 18th and 20th respectively at the league meet.
Meanwhile, the Tiger harriers were even a bit more scattered at the district meet.
At districts, Kerr grabbed another gold medallion, crossing the finish line first. But, it was nearly two minutes later that the next Northwestern harrier, a young Hallingstad, clocked in and snagged 13th.
Stitzel remembers that occurrence all too well.
It was made apparent that it also happened at practice as well the idea of running separately. But, the 11th-year Tiger mentor changed the training regimen around for this year's pack.
"Last year, we had two girls running this way and then girls running this way," Stitzel said. "We weren't running together. We're making sure the girls the top girls are staying together so they can train together."
It's working wonders for the program so far this season.
In its lone home meet of the season, Northwestern showed that its training regimen is working for the better of the program when it comes to the final results.
In a sweep of then unbeaten Notre Dame of Green Pond, Northern Lehigh and Salisbury, Kerr lived up to expectations by setting a course record with her first place finish. But Hallingstad, Burns, Handwerk, Boehm and Fricchione all kept the Tiger pack together by grabbing top-10 finishes for the locals.
"That's what's keeping us together right now running as a pack," Stitzel said. "They push each other. They stay together on all of their runs. We're used to running together (because they train together)."
Teammate Sarah Ribecky added a top-15 finishing in 13th, while Emma Kemmerer secured a top-25 finishing in 24th. Megan Sorenson and Courtney Desiderio weren't too far behind either.
It's the kind of close company Kerr likes to see keeping pace with her in the heat of Colonial League action.
"Having the girls so close together, and having a group that is so close, it really helps," Kerr said. "For the bigger meets - like leagues and districts - and then hopefully if we could make it to states. Being so close, it tells us that we are good as a team. The top-five is really good. We have some depth after that too.
"Everyone's just working so hard, which pushes us toward a really good outlook."
ROAD WARRIORS ... The Tamaqua girls' soccer team has opened up its season the hard way with six consecutive away games. What is even more impressive is the fact that the Raiders are a perfect 6-0 in those games and have won by a combined score of 27-4.
The Raiders will play another away game at North Schuylkill Wednesday before hosting Jim Thorpe this Saturday. Tamaqua originally had a home game with Pottsville scheduled for Sept. 12, but the game was postponed.
SOPHOMORE STUD ... Northern Lehigh's Channing Shiffert has been powering the Bulldogs' soccer team through the early part of the season. The sophomore has tallied nine goals and three assists in the first six games of the year. Nolehi, however, is 2-4 in that span.