Norwin enters girls soccer playoffs with high expectations
With a consecutive playoff streak dating back to before the turn of the new millennium, the Norwin girls soccer team knows all about the feeling about making it to the postseason.
As they prepare to begin the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs sometime later this week, however, the Knights (14-1-2, 10-1-1) are chasing the WPIAL title that's eluded them since 1997.
“We've had high expectations from the beginning of the season,” coach Jeff Palm said. “We set our goals as high as we can and try our best to reach them. So we expect to compete and improve individually and as a team. Hopefully, all those things come together and give us success.”
A regular season that began with Norwin ranked No. 1 in the Tribune-Review's Class AAA rankings ended with the Knights taking second place in Section 1-AAA, behind local rival Penn-Trafford.
The high expectations haven't changed.
“I feel like a lot is expected of us, and we should expect a lot of ourselves,” senior Melissa Harris said. “We have all this skill and everything we need. We just need to put it together like we have the last few games and (in) the beginning of the season and not lose the focus that I feel we did lose for a little bit.”
Despite the second-place finish in the section, Norwin enters the playoffs with confidence because of how it performed against some of the top teams on the schedule. In non-section play, the Knights defeated Section 4-AAA champion Baldwin, 4-0, and tied defending Class AA champion Mars, 2-2. Norwin beat Section 5-AAA champion Peters Township, 2-1, on Monday night and was scheduled to play Section 2-AAA champion North Allegheny on Tuesday.
The Knights added to their success against section champions last week, as they defeated Penn-Trafford, 2-0, in a rematch of a 2-0 loss from earlier this season.
“The girls were prepared for the competition,” Palm said. “They knew it was going to be a physical game, and they came out and played physical on our side and were prepared for what Penn-Trafford was going to do against us. The overall focus was there. The first time, they were sort of distracted because it was Penn-Trafford. This time, they were definitely focused and ready to go.”
While WPIAL pairings weren't scheduled to be released until Wednesday, past the deadline for this week's edition, Norwin could present a challenge to the bracket organizers because of its second-place status juxtaposed against its success against other top teams.
For his part, Palm said he wasn't worried about who the team plays in the opening round.
“Hopefully, we have some success (this) week,” he said. “If we go into the playoffs with one loss, it doesn't really matter where our seed will end up. You have to win four games to win the championship no matter who you play against.”
As usual, Norwin is led by a mix of seniors and underclassmen. Palm mentioned sophomores Paige Pristas, Marley Smith and Abbey Tarosky and freshman Brittany O'Connell as underclassmen who had really stepped up this season.
The seniors, meanwhile, are motivated to win a WPIAL title in their last opportunity. Norwin advanced to the WPIAL championship game during their freshman season in 2010, but the Knights fell in the quarterfinals the past two years.
“We did it our freshman year, so we know we can do it, and we know what it's like,” senior Abby Churchfield said. “We have that experience, and we've had that feeling before. So to be able to get that feeling again would just be awesome.”