District 11 is returning to the past as far as the girls' soccer tournament is concerned.
This season, the PIAA changed from having two soccer classes to just one. That means smaller schools across the state will now compete in the same field as schools with the biggest erollments. In District 11, that means schools like Northwestern will compete against 'big school' powers like Parkland and Emmaus.
"It wasn't the district's choice. It was the state's," said Don Harakal, who is Southern Lehigh High School's Athletic Director and is part of District 11 girls' soccer committee.
For the last four years, District 11 and the PIAA have had two seperate tournaments one in Class 2A and another in Class 3A during the spring sport girls' soccer postseason.
Now, they will return to the one classification tournament that was in effect prior to 2006.
"The state did that because we had a quite of few teams in District One change girls' soccer to a fall sport already," Harakal said. "So, that decreased the number of schools that were offering it in the spring as a sport."
The lone TIMES NEWS area programs who have currently clinched District 11 soccer playoff berths are Northwestern (12-2-1 overall, 10-2-1 Colonial League), and Pleasant Valley (13-3 overall, 10-1 Mountain Valley Conference).
For the first eight years of her coaching career, Kelly Bleam led her Northwestern girls' soccer team a AA program into single classification tournaments.
Despite watching her team win six Colonial League titles in that span of time, the Tigers were only able to muster one district title. Meanwhile, the other titles were captured by the likes of AAA powers Parkland (five) and Emmaus (two).
The last four years, Bleam was given the opportunity to coach her Tigers against programs more their size in the AA class of the tournament.
During that span, the Tigers captured the district championship trophy in 2008 and also reached the state playoffs in 2007 as the District 11 runner-up. Last season, only overtime losses in both the D-11 semifinals and consolation game prevented them from making it three state playoff appearances in four years
Bleam, who is in her 13th year with Northwestern, would like the format to stay right the way it is. However, it's a move the Tigers and many other smaller schools have to deal with.
"As I understand it, the state not the district decided to return to a single classification, therefore District 11 needed to follow suit," Bleam said. "Unfortunately, the state officials, who make decisions like this, do not seem to realize or do not care about the negative impact on the student athletes who participate in athletics.
"The return to a single classification simply reduces good opportunities for female high school athletes to compete in high school soccer in the state of Pennsylvania. However, all the A and AA schools are in the same boat. So, Northwestern will do the best they can as I am sure all the teams from all the classifications will."
Meanwhile, Pleasant Valley coach Tim Hinton will get his first taste of the single classification format as a head coach.
In his first two years as a head coach, Hinton watched the Bears make it all the way to the semifinals of the Class AAA tournament before falling.
Hinton doesn't think the move to one class "will benefit or hurt Pleasant Valley in any way."
Hinton does feel things will get a little bit "interesting" once the tournament gets started regardless of the sizes of the schools in the tournament.
"There are some great AA schools that I know the bigger schools are well aware of," Hinton said. "They either scrimmaged them or scheduled them during the regular season because we all knew we would see them come districts. So, we all know there are some really good AA schools out there.
"Teams like Northwestern, Saucon Valley, Southern Lehigh ... Those teams are going to be tough. So, it's going to be a very deep tournament compared to some previous years."
When the tournament gets started on May 17 with pigtail games, Harakal feels its may present a bit of a challenge for smaller schools to handle. Yet, he still remains optimistic as the tournament approaches.
"I think your better teams are going to be able to survive," Harakal stressed. "I'm not certain that we (as he spoke of his own Southern Lehigh program) could win it. But, I'm sure there are some Lehigh Valley Conference schools that we can compete against. It's certainly going to be a step up in the competition for us."
Northwestern senior Katie Hughes is already looking forward to the competition.
"It's going to be a really unique challenge," Hughes said. "A lot of our club players play with some of the girls on the other teams. It's definitely going to be a challenge for sure, but I think we're going to be up for it. We definitely have the potential to make it really far."
Mike Haines also contributed to the story.
STREISEL SHINES AT PENN RELAYS ..... Tamaqua's Christine Streisel picked a good place to achieve her career best throw in the javelin.
Last week, the Blue Raider sophomore competed for the first time at the prestigous Penn Relays in the high school division. It took her final throw, but on that last toss Streisel earned second place in the event with a distance of 153-10.
Lauren Kenney of State College took first in the event with a throw of 156-2.
Streisel finished fifth at the PIAA state meet last year with a 136-3.
TRACK TOURNAMENT WINNERS ..... The Tamaqua boys and girls track teams both copped championships at last Friday's Pine Grove Invitational.
The Raider boys edged Minersville, 108-96, for the top spot while the girls outpointed Jim Thorpe, 149-117, for first. No less than 12 schools participated in the annual event.
Local individual winners from the Invitational included: Tamaqua's Zach Lakitsky (100, 200), Josh Turner (discus, javelin), Eric Hertzog (110 HH), Christine Streisel (javelin, discus, shot put), Maria Streisel (long jump, high jump), Kelsey Patrick (800, 1600), Taylor Gerber (300 IH), Cecily Kohlmeier (400), and Jim Thorpe's Ashley Nicola (100, 200), PJ Johnson (high jump) and Samantha Harlan (100 H).
The ASD Invitational was also held last weekend and two athletes from the TIMES NEWS area earned first-place finishes. Lehighton's Sarah Keer earned the top spot in the javelin while Palmerton's Kelsey Hay copped the shot put.
RECORD SETTING DAY ..... Pleasant Valley sophomore Keegan Bray set two school records in the same track meet last Wednesday.
In a meet at Lehighton, Bray set new records in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes. Bray broke teammate Hiram Woodruff's 100-meter record (10.86) with a time of 10.8 seconds. He later broke Eric Woodruff's (Hiram's older brother) in the 200-meter dash with a time of 22.4 seconds.
CROSSING THE PLATE ..... A couple of area teams had huge offensive games on the diamond during the past week.
Last Wednesday the Pleasant Valley baseball team plated 20 runs on 17 hits in a 20-9 victory over East Stroudsburg North. John Guadagna and Chris Kershner each drove in four runs for the Bears.
Then on Friday, the Tamaqua softball team scored a 15-0 win over Panther Valley. The Lady Raiders had 14 hits and were aided by Jordan Nowacki's four RBIs. Nowacki singled in the first inning and later came up again when her team batted around to smack a grand slam.
BLANKING THE OPPOSITION ..... The Pleasant Valley girls' soccer team has recorded 11 shutouts in its 12 wins so far this season.
Sarah Elmontacir has started every game this season and has yet to allow a goal in any of the Bears' victories. The lone goal scored against the Bears in one of their victories came on April 11 when Lehighton's Amanda Acabou got a shot past back-up goalie Janelle Pastrana with just over 30 seconds left in regulation.
HAT TOSSING ..... Two Lady Tiger soccer players scored at least three goals within the last week.
Katie Hughes (four) and Meghan Weber (three) each posted hat-tricks in an 11-1 victory over Palmerton last Friday. Hughes also scored twice in an 8-0 win over Catasauqua two days prior.