BUNKER HILL — Western’s girls soccer team felt pressure this week to keep its string of sectional titles alive.
Next year’s team will feel it too.
The Panthers made sure of that with a 2-1 victory over Northwestern in the championship game of the Class 2A Sectional on Saturday night. Lucy Weigt delivered a pair of strikes for the Panthers, bookended around a goal by Northwestern’s Morgan Kistler, to help Western win its fifth straight sectional title.
“It’s awesome,” Weigt said. “It’s really fun being able to play with this team and being able to beat Northwestern for the fifth [title] in a row, especially in the championship.”
Western and Northwestern have squared off the last three sectionals, in the title game this year and in 2019, and in the semifinals last year.
The Panthers struck first inside of five minutes when Weigt headed Audrey Rassel’s corner kick into the near post netting.
“We were very confident coming in,” Weigt said. “I know our passes were very solid. We talked a lot and that helps lead us to getting the ball.”
Northwestern started generating chances shortly after that and hit all three sizes of the Western woodwork without scoring. Lexi Hale’s long-range effort bounced in front of Western goalie Kyndal Mellady and hit the crossbar, bounced out and a Tiger attacker hit the post with the rebound — but the ball stayed out. Then in the 27th minute, another Hale long free kick hit the right post, then dribbled tantalizingly across the six-yard box, but no Tiger could steer it on goal.
A minute later, Northwestern was on target as Kistler scored a tap in on the left post after a diagonal ball got through the box for her to tie the game at 1-all.
It was 1-1 at halftime. Western scored two minutes into the second half then held Northwestern off the scoreboard the rest of the game. A long pass upfield from Ella Biggs put Weigt in position to tussle with Northwestern defender Hale for possession.
“I was going against Lexi Hale. She is very fast and has long legs, but I did get past and whenever I did, the goalie was coming at me so I took a touch over and I shot it,” Weigt said.
The ball nestled in the far corner and Western got down to the business of protecting its lead.
“We talked about this at the half: We have to have defensive pressure everywhere,” Western coach Sam Parr said. “They did a much better job in the second half. First half we gave away fouls where they got free kicks, so Lexi’s taking free kicks from 30 yards out. That’s one of the things I told the team before the game started is that’s what we’ve got to be worried about is Lexi getting those free kicks out top.
“I thought second half we did much better. They didn’t get very many good opportunities. Our defense kinda packed it in and shut it down.”
Mellady had six saves for the Panthers, including three in the last 10 minutes as Northwestern pushed for an equalizer.
"Defensive pressure, that's our thing," Parr said. "That's one of the keys before the game. As long as they can't score, they can't win it, and we've done a fantastic job."
Western takes a 16-2-2 record and 11-game winning streak into Wednesday’s regional semifinal against Leo, which the Panthers host. Northwestern ends its season 6-9 but graduates just two seniors, Delainey Smith and Jinell Zimbron. The Tigers have plenty to work with to make another run next season.
Tiger coach Christina Kidwell said the team took “huge strides, from having only two or three girls that actually started last year. They stepped up, they filled positions, they filled shoes and roles, had responsibilities that they hadn’t been faced with before and they showed huge growth.
“They’re going to come hungry [next season]. They’re going to want more. They know what it takes, they know what they need to do, and it’s just going to start earlier next year. They want it.”