Westmoreland County girls soccer preview: Good luck keeping up with Norwin

Tuesday, September 8, 2020 | 8:39 PM

Team speed is a trait often associated with girls soccer at Norwin. Opponents can feel more like track sprinters as they chase the Knights down the field and back.

Expect more foot races to the goal again this fall.

Of all the skilled teams with wheels that Norwin has trotted out over the last several years, this one could be the Usain Bolt of the group.

Ready, set …

“It’s very well possible,” senior midfielder Lacey Bernick said. “We have tons of speed coming from all different positions.”

Bernick and fellow senior Pitt recruit Katelyn Kauffman, a forward/midfielder, will set the pace and power the offense as Norwin looks to make another deep postseason push.

A formidable pair if there ever was one, Bernick and Kauffman are nominees for the High School All-American Game in May.

“Lacey and Kate have always brought a ton of energy and are both fantastic players who bring a lot to the table, and we expect to see them step up again this year,” Knights coach Lauren Karcher said. “As a whole, our senior class is incredibly talented. They are our last group who were a part of the (state championship) team, so it’s safe to say they’ve had a taste and want it all.”

Norwin (18-3) made the WPIAL finals for the fourth time in five years last season. The Knights were the Class 4A runners-up to North Allegheny and fell to Erie McDowell in the first round of the PIAA playoffs to finish at 18-3.

Sept. 25, 2017 was the last time Norwin lost a section game. It will go for a third straight section title and look to improve on a 29-game unbeaten streak in section.

Bernick, who had 16 goals, is healthy after missing time in the playoffs with a foot injury.

“Our expectations are definitely to make it farther than we did last year and win WPIALs, and even make it back into the state playoffs,” Bernick said. “We suffered some injuries last year, which affected us, but we’re looking to stay as healthy as possible for this year. We also have lots of depth.”

Other key returnees for the Knights include seniors Morgan Sigut (F/MF), Anna Durmis (defender), Maddie Rose (D) and Liz Waszkiewicz (GK), and juniors Emma Rigone (D), Paloma Swankler (F) and Riley Morningstar (GK).

Durmis is a William & Mary recruit, while Rose is headed to Duquesne. Durmis missed some time last year, as well, due to injury.

“We have tons of speed from the forward players, and we will have a strong defense and midfield,” said Kauffman, who scored 23 times as a junior. “Lacey and I will be relied on, but so will everyone else as we need each player to give their absolute best efforts on the field at all times in order to make it far this year.”

All-American Game nominee Eva Frankovic graduated and is now at Pitt, so the defensive unit will need to fill a void. Norwin posted 10 shutouts last year, with Waszkiewicz guarding the net.

Norwin begins every season with the playoffs in mind and this one is no different. The Knights have won two WPIAL titles and have two runner-up finishes in the last five years. It was only three years ago that its historic PIAA championship team held the No. 1 ranking in the country by Top Drawer Soccer.

While past teams always are benchmarks for programs, this group has had to deal with something the others did not: a pandemic.

A slow-starting season could take some time for teams to begin to look sharp and find their usual rhythm.

“After losing first round in states last year, we are much more motivated this year to make it farther,” Kauffman said. “We’re all super excited to get back on the field and begin to play again for probably the first time in six months. The mindset right now is to take it day by day and continue to get better.”

Senior defender Kennedy Soliday also is back and “stronger than ever,” Karcher said, while additional contributors will be seniors Lauren Hall, Marissa Boyer Sydney Willig, along with newcomer Emilie Horton, who has concentrated on volleyball in the past.

Another speedy Division I player could have been in the lineup but junior Sydney Gray, a Virginia Military commit, decided to train solely with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy.

Others to watch

• After finishing 16-5 and claiming a section title with a perfect 12-0 mark, Belle Vernon has the look of a contender in Class 3A.

All-American Game nominee Jillian Butchki leads a talented attack that also now includes senior Izzy Laurita, who only played a couple of games last year before leaving the team.

Butchki had 38 goals last year and is on pace for 100 for her career. Laurita, a Georgia State commit, led the team with 33 as a sophomore.

But the scoring pop won’t end there. Sophomore Farrah Reader and junior Morgan Einodshofer also return from a team that found the net 118 times.

Reader and Einodshofer had 25 apiece, the latter adding 27 assists and the former, 20.

Senior goalkeeper Grace Henderson also returns, but the Leopards have some spots to fill defensively.

“We have a lot of talent,” coach Tracy Lovett said. “We just have to see where everyone fits to best serve the team.”

• Yough has a tall task in replacing all-time leading goal-scorer Justine Appolonia, and a strong supporting cast, that propelled the Cougars to the WPIAL 2A championship game and the greatest playoff run in program history.

The Cougars also made the PIAA playoffs for the first time. Appolonia netted 118 career goals, including 33 last season, before heading to Youngstown State.

Senior fourth-year starter Natalie Vilchek (19 goals), who has been hobbled early by an injury, should be one of the team’s top offensive threats. Watch sophomore McKenzie Pritts, too. She quiety registered 25 goals as a freshman. Senior Nicole Croushore is a solid defender.

Yough scored 110 goals and still should have some firepower.

“I believe we can compete for a section title again, and once you make the playoffs, anything can happen,” Yough coach Dann Appolonia said. “We will have quite a few new starters this year so, unlike last year, I expect there will be a learning curve to get through.”

• WPIAL Class A runner-up Greensburg Central Catholic should be in the title mix again under new coach Olivia Kruger. The Centurions reached the PIAA semifinals.

Several key offensive threats return, including juniors Tatum Gretz, a Villanova commit, and Bethany Winnor, who will help lead the defense.

Other top returnees are seniors Sam Felder (F), Jessica Nemeth (MF), Alexa Gill (D) and Hannah Nelson (D).

Add junior keeper Lyndsey Szekely.

Longtime rival Shady Side Academy moved to 2A, which is one hurdle already cleared for GCC before it even plays a game.

GCC has made the WPIAL playoffs 21 straight times. It has five WPIAL titles since 2010.

• New Penn-Trafford coach Jimmy Mastroianni has nine returning seniors but will have to replace stop-everything goalkeeper Megan Giesey (38 shutouts), who is now at Pitt-Johnstown.

Junior Malia Kearns (12 goals) can be one of the top midfielders in Class 4A.

“Even with a shortened camp week, we feel these girls have the foundation for a very successful year,” Mastroianni said. “They have embraced new ideas and have been very patient as covid guidelines are constantly changing.”

• Franklin Regional, now coached by Scott Arnold, brings back junior midfielder Sydney Lindeman, an all-WPIAL player, junior Sydney Kranick, and senior goalkeeper Sydney Caldwell.

The Panthers returned to the WPIAL playoffs after missing out in 2018, only the second time that happened under former coach Rich Garland’s watch in 20 years. Garland, who had 211 wins, is now coaching at Mt. Pleasant.

A more experienced group could make noise in Section 1-3A.

• Garland’s Mt. Pleasant team features two Division I players in Mackenzie Leeder (Duquesne) and Brooke Ulery (Cleveland State). Leeder is on the All-American game watch list, while Ulery returns after missing time last season because of an injury. Those players, and the addition of Garland, make the Vikings dangerous.

• Other new coaches are Josh Pajak at Southmoreland (the former Mt. Pleasant coach), and Roland Laurita, the father of the Belle Vernon player, at Hempfield.

• Hempfield is young but could have a bright future. Watch the attacking line of senior Taylor Hall, junior Katy Tain and senior McKenna Hammar. Junior Leah Kern is solid on the back line and senior Gillian Bierhals is dependable in net.

• Ligonier Valley returns to the WPIAL and willl play in Class A.

Players to watch

• Lacey Bernick, Sr., F/MF, Norwin

• Jillian Butchki, Sr., MF, Belle Vernon

• Olivia Cernuto, So., MF, Southmoreland

• Tatum Gretz, Jr., MF, Greensburg CC

• Katelyn Kauffman, Sr., MF/F, Norwin

• Malia Kearns, Jr., MF, Penn-Trafford

• Izzy Laurita, Sr., MF, Belle Vernon

• Mackenzie Leeder, Sr., MF, Mt. Pleasant

• Sydney Lindeman, Jr., MF, Franklin Regional

• Natalie Vilchek, Sr., MF, Yough

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

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