Norwin seniors cap special 4-year run with state championship
Saturday, November 18, 2017 | 3:15 PM
HERSHEY — Blood, sweat and tears.
“Literally, that's what went into that game,” Norwin girls soccer coach Lauren Karcher said Friday night after the Knights edged past Neshaminy, 1-0, to win the PIAA Class 4A championship at Hersheypark Stadium.
Senior Lexy Kendro was proof. The sweat was a given after 80 minutes of high-pressure play, but the forward/midfielder had a bloodied scrape on the bridge of her nose, and her eyes were still swimming after an emotional celebration to mark Norwin's first state title since 1996.
“I think I got cleated,” Kendro said, grinning. “I just remember falling and looking down and seeing blood. It's all right, though. This is what we wanted to accomplish and nobody was stopping us. It was a little emotional today.”
Even standout forward Emily Harrigan and goalie Sam Wexell teared up.
“I don't know why,” Harrigan said, cradling a giant Hershey chocolate bar. “We won. It just hits you.”
With holiday lights twinkling on Hersheypark roller coasters as the backdrop, Norwin capped a season of highs and lows, ebbs and flows, with a title that seemed inevitable at the start of the season.
The team toured Chocolate World in the afternoon and visited title town a few hours later.
The narrative goes like this — and yes, it must include Penn-Trafford. (Try mentioning one team without mentioning the other).
The Knights (21-2-1) were ranked No. 1 in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer, but a mid-season defeat against rival Penn-Trafford dropped the Knights from the Top 50.
Penn-Trafford clipped Norwin again in the WPIAL championship, once again showing that no guarantees come with a fancy label.
Perhaps it is fitting both Norwin and Penn-Trafford won titles, symbolizing the strength of girls soccer not only in the WPIAL but also in Westmoreland County's best rivalry the sport has to offer.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Kendro said. “We did lose two games, but we came out on top in the end.”
Humbled by the pair of losses, the Knights regrouped with poise and purpose. Finally, No. 1 really was No. 1. Relief set in and exhilaration followed.
They shut out all four PIAA playoff opponents behind a tireless defensive unit and its closer, Wexell.
Norwin posted 15 shutouts this season and 14 clean sheets in the playoffs across the last three seasons.
“Once again, the defense was phenomenal — Natalie Durmis made a another huge play and Maddy Genicola doesn't get a lot of attention but she played great against a big, physical team,” Karcher said. “The girls all said that was the hardest games of their lives.”
Durmis blocked would-be goals against North Allegheny in the state quarterfinals, and against Neshaminy, after Wexell was enticed from her post.
Wexell finished with a school-record 53 shutouts for her career, third all-time in the WPIAL.
“The defense is in such harmony all the time,” Wexell said. “We all get along and we're so close that when it's on the field we can communicate and all have each other's backs — literally. When I come out, they recover behind me. I will miss playing with them.”
Harrigan ended her decorated career with 93 goals, a school record. Kendro took on an increased offensive role this year and led the Knights with 28 goals.
Senior Alyssa Victor, thought to be out for the duration, came back early from a hip injury and lifted the offense as a top passer.
Sophomore Dani Iannuzzo began her ascent in the program with a strong debut season. She scored the goal in the state final — off a corner kick to the far post from Victor.
Karcher, a Norwin alum, is known for always smiling. She had a frozen grin Friday night, and it had nothing to do with the cold temperatures.
“This is the moment that they lived for and dreamed about since they were little girls,” Karcher said. “They have been working for this for four years. … It feels even more unimaginable than we thought. Just to see the looks on the girls' faces after putting in so much work. It's such a phenomenal feeling and so deserving for the girls. It's an experience no one is going to forget.”
Norwin will lose 11 seniors. Some of that group contributed all four years. The Knights were 81-7-3 with the current senior players around, including an 18-4 mark in the playoffs.
That includes three section titles, two WPIAL championships and the state win.
The state title is the school's first in any team sport since 1996.
More High School Soccer Girls• Former Mars coach takes over Sewickley Academy girls soccer program
• Mars girls soccer makes preseason top 10 in national poll
• St. John’s checks all boxes for Pine-Richland soccer standout Stephanie Cornelius
• Latrobe girls soccer standout Regan Reilly commits to Bowling Green
• Springdale boys soccer team has smooth transition to new coach Palo