Norwin blanks Neshaminy to win PIAA Class AAAA girls soccer title

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Friday, November 17, 2017 | 6:48 PM


HERSHEY — Norwin began the girls soccer season as the top-ranked team in the nation.

The Knights gladly ended it as the best team in the state.

On the strength of its fourth consecutive shutout in the PIAA playoffs, Norwin celebrated its first state title since 1996 — in any team sport — as it bettered Neshaminy, 1-0, in the Class 4A championship on Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium.

Marking defense, locked-in goalkeeping and just enough offense propelled Norwin (21-2-1), which had not been to the state title game since 1997. It had to overcome a physical District 1 Neshaminy (19-7-1) to punctuate another thrilling postseason run.

Norwin lost in the state semifinals two years ago and the quarterfinals last year.

“We weren’t coming this far without going home with the trophy,” Norwin coach Lauren Karcher said.

The Knights won two WPIAL titles in three years ­— a three-peat ripped from their grasp this season by rival Penn-Trafford — but now have redemption with their state crown. Finally.

They hit the Turnpike afterwards with a bus-load of smiles before fire trucks met them at the Irwin interchange to lead them home.

“Everything just fell into place,” said Norwin senior Emily Harrigan, who was hobbled early by an ankle injury but played though the pain and tried to set up teammates. “This was four years in the making. We wanted to leave on a good note, and that’s exactly what we did.”

A connection between players who were once more likely to pass in the night than hook up for the winning goal sent the Knights to victory. Harrigan had just passed on a clear shooting lane with about seven minutes to go when Norwin suddenly had another chance.

In the 73rd minute, sophomore Dani Iannuzzo, who transferred to Norwin from a school in Southern California, set up in front of the net on a corner kick. Senior Alyssa Victor straight-edged the delivery, and Iannuzzo finished for the winning goal.

Victor, the team’s sniper on set pieces, had hip surgery in the offseason and was expected to miss the year. She came back early and helped the Knights reach the WPIAL title game, which the Knights lost in overtime, 2-1, to Penn-Trafford, and kept the embers glowing for the PIAA bracket.

“We had a lot of chances out wide,” Victor said. “We were doing everything we could. We were getting down their throats. We knew on a set piece we were going to finish. Dani knocked it into the bottom corner, and we were defense from there.

“This is a great team win, and what we’ve been waiting for. I couldn’t feel any better right now. We knew this was our year for states.”

Iannuzzo was just hoping to make Norwin’s highly touted team after playing for Legends FC in California. She couldn’t have imagined she would have the team’s biggest goal.

“I know that when I’m in a corner (play), my goal is to be in front of the keeper and get any part of my body on it,” Iannuzzo said. “I got my foot on it, and it was the best moment of my life.

“Once we connect the ball, we’re an amazing team. I moved here for a reason and this was my reason, to bring this team to victory. I love this team and wouldn’t want to be here with anybody else.”

Karcher knows how important it was to get Victor healthy.

“To get Alyssa Victor back this year … you never want to see someone put in all that work and not be able to play her senior year,” Karcher said. “She has been an integral part of our team, and as she showed in the playoffs, she really added a lot of points throughout the playoffs. Getting her back was huge.”

With Neshaminy holding a size advantage over the Knights, it controlled the ball through the air. But Norwin made an adjustment at halftime to keep the ball down, and it led to more chances.

Neshaminy, though, also had its share of chances. But Knights senior keeper Sam Wexell was ready. Wexell made five saves, her leaping, finger-tipped stop at the apex of the net with 2:26 left keeping overtime at bay. She looked like a wide receiver dunking on the goal post.

Wexell’s 5-foot-10 frame and long reach once again was an advantage, like it has been in all 53 of her career clean sheets.

“Thoughout warmups, I was having flashbacks to WPIAL finals and that taste of failure,” Wexell said. “I was going to do anything not to feel that way again. There were a lot of emotions in this game and it meant a lot to us. It was perfect.”

The defense made Neshaminy work.

With 16 minutes to play, Wexell was drawn out by the Redskins and the net was abandoned. A scrum ensued and a shot was fired but Knights’ defender Natalie Durmis stepped in to deflect the potential score.

Riley Springer also was stellar in goal for the Redskins, collecting 10 saves.

The 2011 Peters Township girls were the last team to post four straight consecutive en route to a PIAA title in the largest classification.

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

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