Norwin Star notebook: Knights special teams duo earns spot at national showcase

Saturday, December 18, 2021 | 11:01 AM

Xander Smith and Joey Castle were a one-two special teams punch for Norwin this season. Smith centered long snaps to Castle, who boomed punts into orbit.

Castle also made good on extra points and field goals and aimed for touchbacks as the Knights’ kicker.

The junior pair continue to follow a similar trajectory to college recruiting through the showcase circuit.

Smith and Castle have been invited to the eighth annual Hammer Kicking Academy Top 40 event set for June 22-26 in Orlando, Fla.

They both went to the National Kicking Rankings Top 20 Invitational last May in New Orleans.

There is more for Smith.

He has been invited to the National Underclassmen Challenge on Jan. 8-9 at Somerset Academy Canyons in Boynton Beach, Fla.

Their exploits stem from strong grade-outs at Kohl’s kicking and showcase camps.

Smith was the top-rated long snapper at the Eastern Showcase to earn an automatic invite to the NUC.

“It’s really cool to be asked to compete with the best specialists in the country,” said Smith, who also made an impact as a wide receiver for the Knights. “It shows that I am working hard and getting better. I keep improving my rankings, so that’s good. I just hope in the end I can play football at the next level.”

Castle called the Hammer invite an honor.

“It gives me the chance to compete with the best in the country,” he said. “I have made many great friendships with guys that are very talented specialists from all over. This keeps me motivated to continue to improve. The intense camp competitions help us see how we do under pressure and, hopefully, one day turns into a chance to compete for a spot on a college roster.”

Fast start for hoops

The Norwin basketball teams both went 2-0 in season-opening tournaments.

The boys defeated Propel Braddock Hills, 69-24, and Obama Academy, 55-41, in the St. Joseph Tournament in Natrona Heights.

Against Braddock Hills, Mike Fleming had a game-high 18 points, while Ty Stecko added 12 and Ryan Edwards chipped in 10.

Fleming went for 19 more, while Adam Bilinsky had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Stecko scored 12 against Obama.

For the girls, who opened the season at the She Got Game Classic in Alexandria City, Va., Alyssa Laukus and Lauren Palangio had eight points each in a 53-23 win over Dunbar (Va.), a day after Laukus netted 14 and Brianna Zajicek 10 in a 55-20 victory against Unity Reed (Va).

Knights win Hampton Duals

Norwin wrestling is expected to have a promising season, and the Knights came out of the gates fast by winning the season-opening Hampton Dawg Duals.

Chase Kranitz and Nate Campbell finished the one-day event with 5-0 records, while Luke Passarelli, Josh Page and Conner Henning finished 4-1. Gabe Conboy went 3-1.

The Knights defeated Fox Chapel (52-21), Altoona (40-27), Yough (69-6), Quaker Valley (34-30) and Mt. Pleasant (42-34).

Barca returns

Dom Barca is back from football, and he is making an immediate impact on the ice for Norwin hockey.

The senior forward had a hat trick and added three assists as the Knights skated past Blackhawk, 12-5, to move to 8-1.

Barca, the leading rusher for the footbal team, has four goals and five assists so far this hockey season.

Norwin is 4-1 since Barca rejoined the lineup.


Norwin football player Nate Kadosh-Harris is gaining steam on the recruiting trail. He has opportunities to play at Marietta, Bethany and Grove City. Harris, a senior running back/linebacker, rushed for 316 yards and made 43 tackles with six sacks last season.

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


More Football

Armstrong’s Cadin Olsen repeats as Willie Thrower Award winner
‘Emotional leader’ Gavin Moul caps Bethel Park career with Big 33 appearance
Armstrong’s Olsen, the 2022 winner, leads candidates for Thrower Award
Hempfield hires Nick Keefer as football coach
Westmoreland high school notebook: PIHL Class A final could feature 2 local teams