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Norwin girls soccer sets sights high as season begins

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Kim Stepinsky | For The Tribune-Review
(from front), Norwin's Sami Farabaugh, maintains ball possession over Mt. Lebanon's, Caylin Lewandowski, during the Norwin vs. Mt. Lebanon girls soccer game, held at Norwin Stadium on Saturday afternoon, October 20, 2012.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional's Haley Zeliff and Norwin's Abby Churchfield battle for possession during a game at Franklin Regional on Monday, September 17, 2012.

Norwin girls soccer coach Jeff Palm set the standards high for himself and for his team after the Knights advanced all the way to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals in 2010, his first season at the helm.

The Knights didn't match those accomplishments the past two seasons, but the goal hasn't changed for Norwin heading into 2013.

“I start off every year setting my goals as high as I can — to win a state championship,” Palm said. “We start by winning the section championship, we work through the playoffs and try to win the WPIAL championship and then states.

“My first year here as a coach for the girls, we went to the WPIAL final and the state semifinals. So I've set the bar really high for myself and my team. They know that's what I'm striving for, and I know we're capable of doing it.”

Norwin enters the 2013 season looking to win its first WPIAL championship since it captured consecutive titles in 1996-97. The Knights have advanced to the playoffs in every season since, twice making it to the WPIAL final, but so far a championship has eluded them.

To end that streak this season, Palm will look to an experienced team that returns all but four players from last season, which saw Norwin finish second in Section 1-AAA and advance to the WPIAL quarterfinals before losing to Bethel Park in double overtime.

“We have a lot of experience because a lot of (players) have been out there,” Palm said. “I believe that's definitely one of our strengths. We have somebody that's familiar with playing in Section 1 (and) playing in a nonsection game against some of the best teams in the WPIAL. They're prepared for it. They've been in the playoffs, they've suffered the heartbreak of losing close games (and) they know what they need to do to make sure that doesn't happen.”

The Knights must replace two all-WPIAL players in forward Rachel DelleFemine and defender Marissa Antrilli.

The return of sophomore forward Micayla Livingston, the only freshman to be named to the all-WPIAL team last season, will help offset the loss of DelleFemine's scoring.

“She scored 19 goals for us last year,” Palm said. “I expect her to be able do a lot of the same things this year. (She's a) very skilled, very quick forward that can find the back of the net pretty easily.”

Three senior captains — Sami Farabaugh, Melissa Harris and Sierra Vecchio — will lead the way in the midfield. Farabaugh and Vecchio were named to the all-section team last season.

Junior Kara Batey, who missed her freshman season with an injury before playing last season, will also help at midfield.

Meanwhile, two players will step up in place of the graduated Antrilli: junior Olivia Ott and sophomore Marley Smith.

Those two will be joined on the back line by senior captain Abby Churchfield, a three-year starter, and sophomore Jess Boytim.

“I trust (Churchfield) and Jess to control the back and limit the number of opportunities and scoring chances for the other teams,” Palm said.

Senior Cayla Imbarlina will start in goal.

“She's had experience from her freshman year,” Palm said. “She's dealt with a couple injuries throughout the years, but she played all of last year. Now, in her senior year, (I) expect her to be a big leader from the back.”

The Knights will begin their season with nonsection home games against Baldwin on Sept. 3 and Mt. Lebanon on Sept. 7 before opening section play at Kiski on Sept. 9.

The addition of Franklin Regional before last season made Section 1 even tougher, and Palm expects another battle with the likes of the Panthers, Penn-Trafford, Hempfield and Latrobe for the title this season.

“Norwin is usually on top of the section with a couple other teams, but we know how hard we have to work to get there,” he said. “It's not just a given.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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