Norwin girls set to face familiar foe North Allegheny in PIAA quarterfinals
Norwin wanted Penn-Trafford. Bad. Expected it even.
The Knights loathed seeing the Warriors celebrate a WPIAL championship against them last weekend, their hopes of a WPIAL three-peat dashed at Highmark Stadium.
Not P-T. Anyone but P-T.
Norwin could not beat the talented Warriors in three tries, going 0-2-1 against them.
The PIAA playoffs are always ripe with rematches, but with Penn-Trafford unseated on election night, the Knights won't get another chance at their rivals. Instead, they'll get the team that knocked P-T out of the state bracket: North Allegheny.
The theme remains: Them again?
“Hopefully, they'll be depressed and won't want to play against us,” North Allegheny coach Chuck Kelley said with a laugh. “At this stage of the season, we're ecstatic to still be playing and look forward to the challenge.”
The teams will meet for the third time this season in Saturday's PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals at noon at Fox Chapel.
Norwin (18-2-1) blanked the Tigers (14-7) twice — 3-0 in the regular-season finale and 2-0 in the WPIAL semifinals.
While Norwin harbors some disappointment in dodging the Warriors, there also is a renewed sense of confidence in getting back to the task at hand — winning a PIAA title. The Knights have not won a state girls soccer title since 1996.
Many thought that was inevitable in late summer when Norwin was christened the No. 1 team in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer. Penn-Trafford cleared that chalkboard with one swipe, a 1-0 win in Section 4 play. The teams tied 0-0 later in the season.
Penn-Trafford inched by the Knights in the WPIAL title game, 2-1 in overtime, for its first championship since 2003.
“I wanted to play Penn-Trafford again,” Norwin senior standout Emily Harrigan said. “We had the ball in their end the majority of the game. We hit post after post, crossbar after crossbar but just couldn't get it in the back of the net. If we played them again, I couldn't see them beating us three times.”
With the Warriors cleared from the road, the path to the semifinals could be much smoother — and less stressful — for the Knights, who were knocked out in the quarters last season, 3-1 by Canon-McMillan.
Norwin reached the state semifinals two years ago.
“Sometimes we've been the team that's been upset in the playoffs,” Norwin coach Lauren Karcher said. “Other times, we've pulled the upset. We've been in both positions. These girls are ready, and they know what they want to do. That's to go all the way.”
Four different players scored goals — Eva Frankovic, Lexy Kendro, Harrigan and Lexy Gray — in Norwin's 4-0 win over State College in the first round Tuesday at snow-coated Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona.
It was the 50th shutout of senior goalkeeper Sam Wexell's career, tying her with Kori Koper (1999-2002) for the school record. The total ranks third all-time in the WPIAL.
Norwin isn't used to having to travel this early in states, but the trip was worthwhile. The bad taste of the WPIAL final is gone.
“We have a lot of veterans on the team,” Karcher said. “For a lot of them, it's their senior year. They want to go out with a bang. They'll do everything in their power on the field to advance. North Allegheny will be a tough game. It's the third time we've played them. Anything can happen.”
Midfielder Alex Adams scored twice for North Allegheny in the 2-0 win against Penn-Trafford Tuesday. Adams has 16 goals to lead the Tigers.
“They gave us some tough competition,” Kendro said of North Allegheny. “We have to keep steam-rolling, keep our heads up, play the way we know how and have a positive attitude.”
Platooning senior goalkeepers Olivia Ruppersberger and Julia Correa helped preserve the shutout. Kelley has gone with the two-keeper look all season.
He could not pick a starter so he cut the cake down the middle.
“Some people think I'm crazy,” the coach said, “but both are very good goalkeepers and give us a chance to win. It's a luxury to have two who can play like that.”
Harrigan had a goal and assist in the semifinal win over the Tigers. Her arcing, near-side cross to set up Katy Ericson's goal has to be on the season highlight reel.
“It's not going to be an easy game,” Harrigan said. “They're definitely going to come out tough. We know their best players and how they play. They know the same about us.”
North Allegheny hopes it can set the tone early, like it did against Penn-Trafford.
“It's about matchups,” Kelley said. “Norwin uses a different formation (than Penn-Trafford). But they play with the same intensity and quality players that P-T has.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.