WINSTED >> Nonnewaug’s girls soccer team (3-0) scored the only goal late in the first half of a defensive struggle at Northwestern High School (0-3) Monday afternoon.
Senior Taylor Peck and sophomore Hailey Wheeler paired up for the score in the 1-0 Nonnewaug win.
The senior/sophomore teamwork represents great news for the Chiefs and bad news for most other teams in the Berkshire League.
“We’re young. Over half of our team (varsity and junior varsity) is freshman,” said Nonnewaug coach Nick Sheikh before the game.
“We lost six starters from last year’s team, so it was a little nerve-wracking at the beginning of the season,” said Peck. “We were brand new in pre-season.”
The Chiefs followed their learning curve through a blow-out opener against Wamogo and a 1-0 tester against a talented young Housatonic team.
“We got our confidence,” beamed Wheeler.
On the other side, first-year head coach Jared Stotler’s Highlanders are gaining their confidence the hard way.
Stotler starts a mix that includes “five or six” senior starters from last year’s 7-8-1 team (including an upset win over Nonnewaug).
Nevertheless, the schedule kicked the Highlanders into a gruesome opening series against the top three teams in the league last year.
Northwestern started with a respectable 1-0 loss against Litchfield. Then Lewis Mills, running over everyone in its path so far, smacked the Highlanders 6-1.
Now, with another respectable loss against a top team, the Highlander ship is ready to sail.
“We played tough,” said Stotler. “We didn’t get the result we wanted, but the effort was there.”
If respect paves the road to confidence, Northwestern is on its way.
“They made it hard to do some of the things we’re used to doing,” said Peck.
“Their defense was very good,” said Wheeler.
Both defenses were up to the task.
Northwestern got off the game’s first shot.
Nonnewaug senior goalkeeper Megan Mitchell handled it with the same confidence she showed on her other five saves.
“Meg was heads up,” smiled Coach Sheikh.
Junior Kaelyn Hester (three saves) was just as sure-handed in Northwestern’s net.
Serious threats raged from both sides.
In the 13th minute, Northwestern senior Libby Harwood carried the ball way into the box before Mitchell grabbed the ball five yards out.
Nonnewaug’s Wheeler had a clear shot from the right wing in the 15th.
Hester, in traffic, pounced on a ball at her goal mouth in the 20th.
The Chiefs brushed a shot against Northwestern’s left post in the 29th.
Nine minutes from the half, Wheeler charged in close from the right on a pass from Peck. Her shot from five yards short of the right post found the far left corner of the net.
Then, with the Highlander defense standing firm, it was up to Nonnewaug’s D to match it.
Chances came again in the second half.
Peck banged a shot off Hester from 10 yards out, four minutes in.
Nonnewaug sophomore Jennifer Wingard had an open shot from 20 yards out 14 minutes in.
Northwestern Coach Stotler hollered, “Who’s there!!?” after two Highlander crosses went unclaimed in the middle of the period.
Twenty-four minutes in, a dangerous Northwestern ball lingered near the Chiefs’ right post. Mitchell slipped to the ground trying to reach it. A Nonnewaug back finally cleared it off the line.
Both defenses worked their tails off.
Northwestern senior Hannah Yabrosky made a great stop in the penalty box in the 26th minute.
Mitchell caught a hard shot from Olivia Mecca in the 28th, then another in the 37th.
“It looks like there’s a lot of parity this year,” said Coach Sheikh, with his lead finally stuck for good.
“It might be some people, like us, graduating a lot of kids or it might be the league getting stronger. I think it’s both.”
Nonnewaug 1, Northwestern 0
At Northwestern High School
Nonnewaug 1 0-1
Northwestern 0 0-0
Goal: N-Hailey Wheeler. Assist: N-Taylor Peck. Shots: 6-6. Saves: N-Megan Mitchell 5. NW-Kaelyn Hester 3.
Records: Nonnewaug 3-0; Northwestern 0-3.