CHAMBERSBURG — Two decades after its last trip to the PIAA girls soccer championship, Norwin is headed back to the state final.
Another smothering defensive effort weaved neatly into a pair of bookend goals lifted Norwin to a 2-0 victory over Conestoga Valley on Tuesday night in a PIAA Class AAAA semifinal at Chambersburg High School’s Trojan Stadium.
Norwin won the PIAA title in 1996 with a 1-0 win over West Chester Henderson and finished as runner-up in 1997 after a 3-0 loss to the same opponent. Both Class AAA finals were played at Shippensburg.
This time, Norwin (20-2-1) advances to play Neshaminy (16-6-1), the third-place team from District 1, in the championship at 4 p.m. Friday at Hersheypark Stadium.
Fans greeted the players with Hershey Kisses and Hershey bars after the win.
“We’re very excited. … For some of these girls, this has been four years in the making,” Norwin coach Lauren Karcher said. “Just going to Hershey to represent our area is an amazing accomplishment.”
Norwin’s defenders got in the way, contesting shots and limiting the District 3 champion Buckskins (23-3-1) offensively. It was Norwin’s 14th shutout of the season and third consecutive in the postseason.
The WPIAL runner-up Knights have 13 clean sheets in the playoffs in the last three years.
A penalty kick jump-started Norwin early. All-time goals leader Emily Harrigan approached the net, ready to rear back for a shot when she was upended and landed hard on the turf.
The foul was called, and Alyssa Victor took the shot. Rather calmly and with little contest from Buckskins’ keeper Lauren Yoder, Victor kicked low and right and found the net for a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute.
“Both teams are quick, so we knew we couldn’t just beat them in a foot race,” Karcher said. “We made our passes count and capitalized on plays when we were given them.”
Victor credited Harrigan for getting into position to draw the foul.
“She created a great opportunity in the box,” Victor said. “It was one of those big moments where I knew I had to finish to give the team the lead. A one-goal lead in the first half really makes a difference in the whole game.”
Conestoga Valley coach Keith Nagley said Norwin’s speed created problems.
“We watched the District 7 final on YouTube,” Nagley said. “You see how fast Harrigan is and then you see how fast she is in person. They just had too much speed.”
Possession was about equal for the rest of the first half; the only quality look the Buckskins managed was a high shot by Alexis Spencer that hit the crossbar in the 25th minute.
Conestoga pushed for shots in the second half, but Norwin kept repelling the charge, almost to the point of exhaustion.
“When the final whistle blows, it means that much more,” said Norwin goalkeeper Sam Wexell, who has 52 career shutouts. “This was a defensive battle if I have ever been in one. The whole team was defending the entire game. It means so much more when you’re working hard up until the last second.”
Norwin made it 2-0 in the 51st minute when a Knights’ rush brought Yoder out of the net. Senior Lexy Kendro made a heady play when she chose to pass instead of shoot. Her slashing cross to a cutting Katy Ericson resulted in a higher-percentage shot — and a score.
“(Bernick) used that speed to beat a defender and she had an opportunity at a shot, but she laid it off and Katy Ericson was right there again,” Karcher said. “Conestoga Valley picked it up even more after that; they’re a great team all-round and up top and their defense is solid. Getting that first goal was huge.”
Wexell made three saves, and Yoder finished with seven.
Conestoga Valley did not make the playoffs when its current seniors were freshmen, but won three straight section titles and made deep district and state playoff runs since.
“We had plenty of chances,” Nagley said. “We just didn’t put them in.”
A prolonged finish was the result of the teams exchanging yellow cards in the final minute.
Corrected: Lexy Kendro assisted Norwin’s second goal.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BillBeckner.