Norwin girls soccer getting healthy just in time for playoff run

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017 | 8:03 PM


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Norwin players saunter out of soccer practice and games wrapped in the same post-action armor: ice packs.

The plastic bags cover legs, arms, even thighs and hips, cold and stinging but a necessary evil for any team that is 16 games into another grinding regular season. Norwin, though, is glad to see certain players “icing.” It means the swelling is going down, certain movements are returning and speed is reappearing in players' steps.

“We have the best trainers in the WPIAL,” coach Lauren Karcher said with a smile.

The highly touted Knights are getting healthy again — just in time for the WPIAL playoffs.

And a replenished Norwin team is a chilling thought to opponents.

“If we're all strong and healthy, we know what we are capable of,” said Knights senior center midfielder Alyssa Victor, who recently made an expedited return from hip surgery that sidelined her for nine months. “All the girls knew my doctor's appointments and kept up with when I would come back. Sitting on the bench is terrible, but I learned a lot by watching.”

Nagging injuries also have hindered junior Maddy Genicola, who missed a half-dozen games, and standouts Emily Harrigan and Lexy Kendro.

Veteran goalkeeper Sam Wexell, an Ohio recruit, has a nagging wrist injury but it hasn't shown.

Genicola, who committed to Duquesne as a sophomore, is back. Harrigan, Kendro and Wexell have not missed any time, all playing through pain before reaching for the ice bags.

“I wasn't even 80 percent the first time we played Penn-Trafford,” said Harrigan, who has 18 goals and 12 assists. “We're all starting to get back to normal, and that's nice to see.”

Norwin (14-1-1) opens the WPIAL playoffs Monday as the No. 4 seed in Class 4A. The Knights haven't exactly been in peril waiting for players to come back. The two-time defending WPIAL champions started the season ranked No. 1 in the country by Top Drawer Soccer and looked unbeatable at times. It just so happens, rival Penn-Trafford (13-3-1) is pretty good, too. Maybe very good.

The Knights ran into a strong Penn-Trafford team and fell 1-0, ending their 47-game regular-season winning streak and dropping them in the rankings.

That hurt as much as any contusion or sprained ankle at the time, but the Knights paused to put things in perspective.

The lofty ranking, and losing it, is a thing of the past, its pounding pressure gone like last week's headache.

“Rankings are just a number,” Karcher said. “The playoffs will be very interesting. It won't matter what anybody's number is.”

Norwin and Penn-Trafford tied 0-0 in their second meeting, a thriller before about 700 fans in North Huntingdon, to give Penn-Trafford its first section title since 2013 and deny Norwin a section four-peat. That was the game Victor came back, playing limited minutes and helping on set pieces.

Followers of the rivalry — and coaches — already are trumpeting for a third showdown between the rivals in the postseason.

The teams are on opposite sides of the WPIAL Class AAAA bracket and could be on a collision course to meet in the finals in early November at Highmark Stadium. Penn-Trafford was awarded the No. 2 seed.

“That would be the ultimate game (in the finals) for the WPIAL and (Westmoreland County) soccer,” Karcher said. “I know both teams want to play again.”

Norwin didn't have three starters for a stretch in last year's playoffs, and injuries also hampered the team two years ago. The Knights were a No. 1 seed the last two seasons.

“Concussions were a big thing in the past,” Karcher said. “Hopefully, we got the injuries out of the way and we'll be OK (in the playoffs).”

When she is back to full form, Victor, a Duquesne recruit, could be a beacon in an offense that has moved people around to counter her absence. The All-WPIAL player had 33 assists last season, setting up Harrigan and others with pinpoint passing and touch.

“Having Alyssa back is a huge help,” said Harrigan, a Rutgers recruit who will play in the High School All-American Game. “We call her our little secret weapon. She surprised us and came back three months early. She didn't miss a beat.”

A fantastic midfielder by nature, Kendro has moved up to forward much of the season, and has thrived with 24 goals and 12 assists. Victor's return helps strengthen the middle of the field — and the defense, helped by strong play from sophomore Eva Frankovic, a Kent State recruit.

The Knights have more options. Sophomore Dani Iannuzzo, a transfer from southern California, is playing midfield. She scored twice against North Allegheny in a 3-0 win.

“We can move Lexy up, to the middle or to the outside,” Karcher said. “With (Victor) back, we are preparing for different scenarios, based on different type of defenses and teams we might see.”

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

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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