Last year at this time there was no Northwestern Lehigh girls volleyball team.
The Lady Tigers played their first district playoff game on Friday, and won it.
Their prize was a matchup the next day against top-seeded Bethlehem Catholic. The Golden Hawks dispatched the Tigers in three games, 25-10, 25-13, 25-15 in a District 11 Class AA quarterfinal match.
"Obviously they have a lot more firepower and they've been doing it a lot longer than we have," said Northwestern head coach Dave Hufnagle. "I couldn't be prouder of the way we played the last two and a half games. We were very competitive."
The Tigers fell behind 7-1 quickly in the first game and was down 14-3 before settling in and doing their best to slow down Beca's big hitters.
In the second game, the Hawks took a little longer to open up a lead, as the Tigers were down just 5-4 before a five-point run by the Golden Hawks, who got back one of their top hitters, Lauren Hess, from an illness. She missed the Lehigh Valley Conference semifinals with pink eye but returned for districts, making six kills in the match.
"We got the chemistry back," said Hawks head coach Paul Abi-Daher. "W got momentum back and most of all we got our energy back just in time for the semifinals."
Northwestern kept the second game close and was down 15-10 before a six-point Hawks run sealed the 2-0 lead.
The Tigers managed an early lead in the third game, 2-0. But the Hawks got hot, opening a 10-4 lead and holding the Tigers at arm's length the rest of the way.
Hufnagle liked the way his team played after its early struggles, which he attributed to the level of its opponent. Northwestern had faced some very good teams this season, but the Hawks are likely as good as any of them.
"When you go to the ER," he said. "The first thing they do is try to stabilize you. It took us 10 or 15 points to stabilize and realize what we're up against. Once we did, we played as well as we could play."
Beca's Taylor Bennett had 15 kills in the match as the Hawks face Blue Mountain, a 3-1 winner over Lehighton, in the semifinals.
Getting to the district tournament and advancing to the second round bodes well for the future of Northwestern's young program. The team loses seniors Abby Sanders, Jordan Veppert, Shelby Clymer Mackenzie Hart and Kayla Olson. Several underclassmen are expected back next year, including setter Sarah Hufnagle, libero Mariana Valencia and some of the team's top hitters in Jenny Von Holt and Trista Cunningham.
"Expectations for next year certainly won't be any lower with the group we have coming back," Dave Hufnagle said. "Not that we're not going to miss our seniors, but we have players ready to step into their shoes. We played all 12 girls this year so everyone got lots of experience. Some of the underclassmen were stepping in. They've been in the fray. They meant a lot."
Hufnagle has coached many of the seniors for a long time in club volleyball. They were not only good players, but also were instrumental in getting the varsity program approved.
"I'll miss them a lot," he said. "I had them for a long, long time. Without them I don't know if we even have this program."