Led by 9 college recruits, Norwin girls in search of 3rd straight WPIAL title

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Monday, August 28, 2017 | 9:17 PM


Norwin is locked in an unforced partnership with hype, a girls soccer team strapped with perhaps greater expectations than any in school history.

The two-time defending WPIAL Class AAA champions begin the season ranked No. 2 in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer, a reputable outfit in soccer circles that recognizes these facts:

• Norwin returns seven starters from a 21-1-1 team that reached the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals.

• It has nine players committed to play college soccer, including six at the Division I level.

• The Knights have five players who won a national championship with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds travel team this summer.

With talent abound, coach Lauren Karcher's job is to keep the team focused and grounded as it begins its title defense. That job, the coach said, has been smoother than one might expect with an abundance of senior leadership rearing its presence.

“The most important thing is to not get ahead of ourselves,” Karcher said. “The girls know what they want, especially the seniors; they're our workhorses. They have been through the experience and the journey that is the long season. They want to go all the way, but a lot has to go right.”

Senior forward Emily Harrigan will be the pace-setter for a deep and versatile group. A USA Today All-USA preseason pick this season, Harrigan had 32 goals and 14 assists last fall, scoring in 18 of 23 games. She is a Rutgers recruit and a fourth-year starter.

“Emily is one of those players who don't always come across,” Karcher said. “She puts in the time and has such a love for the game. She is not satisfied unless she does better than the time before.”

Harrigan believes a WPIAL three-peat is a strong possibility. As is a deeper state playoff run.

“A lot of us use a bittersweet memory from the last two years as motivation,” Harrigan said. “We came up short in states, and it was an awful feeling. We want to take it to the next step.”

Norwin lost in the Class AAA state semifinals in 2015.

Another obvious leader aiming to steer the team through the heightened buildup is standout goalkeeper Sam Wexell, an Ohio commit. Another fourth-year starter, she has 37 career shutouts and has surrendered just three goals in section games the last two years.

Nobody will argue Wexell helps shepherd the team on and off the pitch.

“Since Day 1, Sam has had the most positive attitude,” Karcher said. “She gets the team up with her energy. It could be our weakest moment and she is there.”

One bout of adversity Norwin faces immediately is having to replace senior midfielder Alyssa Victor, who is out for the season following hip surgery. A Duquesne recruit, Victor was the master distributor. She led the team with more than 30 assists last season and, “A lot of times, had the winning goal,” Karcher said. “Losing her presents a real challenge for us. She has the school record for assists.”

Karcher said the passer role could be handed off like a baton some games, but senior Lexy Kendro, another Duquesne recruit, is the obvious replacement. She is another strong ball-handler.

“She is Alyssa's partner in crime,” Karcher said. “She is primarily at center and more offensive, where Victor is more defensive. Kendro is so versatile; She's slotted at center-mid but we may move her up top. We may have to switch up our formations.”

Harrigan, Wexell, Kendro and Victor were all-WPIAL selections last season.

With 11 seniors, Norwin does not lack leadership or experience.

“Our seniors have been great with the younger girls,” Karcher said. “We talk about how we don't stand for drama. They don't let that happen.”

Sophomore Eva Frankovic is another up-and-coming player in the program. She has a scholarship to Kent State but played on Norwin's junior varsity team last year.

“She is another versatile player,” Karcher said. “She practices and that is like varsity time for her.

“We have a lot of depth,” Karcher said. “Our intra-squad game was very even. There is a lot of speed and strength there.”

Other key players include junior Maddy Genicola, another Duquesne recruit, and senior Emily Arnold, who is headed to Slippery Rock with senior teammate Katy Ericson.

Genicola, Arnold and Ericson hold down a tight defense before the ball even gets to Wexell. Norwin produced 13 shutouts last season, four in the playoffs. Karcher said it would not be unusual for a player like Ericson to move to offense, though.

Senior Julia Scamardi, a Seton Hill recruit, is a key reserve. Senior Natalie Durmis, a center back is one of the captains and a “glue player,” Karcher said.

“Our practices have been intense and played at a high level,” Karcher said. “The girls came into camp already in shape.”

Five players — Wexell, Harrigan, Emily Arnold, Katy Ericson and Kendro — played on the Riverhounds U-19 U.S. Cup national championship team. Victor also was on that team but was injured.

Wexell said the summer tournament experience should help the handful of senior standouts deal with the added pressure of their final prep seasons.

“We're used to playing on the big stage,” Wexell said. “We're talking about winning the section first. It's cliche but we're taking it one day at a time.”

A few freshmen also could see time as they come up the program ladder.

Norwin opens the season Sept. 6 at Bethel Park. The two games circled long ago on the schedule are against rival Penn-Trafford, another talented team looking to dethrone the Knights. The Warriors were second behind Norwin last season in Section 4-AAAA.

The teams play Sept. 25 at Penn-Trafford and Oct. 11 at Norwin, both 7:30 p.m. starts.

Penn-Trafford returns three all-WPIAL players in seniors Mackenzie Aunkst, Hannah Nguyen and Lauren Stovar.

Karcher and Penn-Trafford coach Jackie Bartko are friends who used to be rivals playing for the alma maters that they now coach.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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