Norwin's season comes to 'heartbreaking' end
Norwin girls soccer coach Jeff Palm chose a simple word to describe the end of his team's season: “heartbreaking.”
The Knights (14-3-2), the No. 8 seed, saw their season come to an end with a 1-0 shootout loss to No. 9 Canon-McMillan in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs Saturday at Norwin Knights Stadium.
“It's tough to see all their hard work on the field not be rewarded,” Palm said. “They played their hearts out. We were definitely the better team (and) had the better of the chances but just couldn't finish. ... Canon-McMillan's a good team. They held us out. We just didn't finish the opportunities that we had. It's heartbreaking.”
Norwin controlled play from the beginning of the game, generating several scoring chances throughout the 80-minute regulation and two 15-minute overtime periods. However, the Knights couldn't get the ball past Canon-McMillan goalkeeper Kyra Murphy.
“It's a problem we've had over the years and through this season as well — being able to finish,” Palm said.
“It's something we'll work on fixing as we get ready for next year,” he added.
Unlike the regular season, playoff games that remain tied after two overtime periods go to a five-person shootout. Palm said the team practiced the shootout leading up to Saturday's game.
Murphy led off the shootout by firing a shot off Norwin goalkeeper Cayla Imbarlina's hands, and the ball trickled over the line for a goal. After Murphy stopped Sierra Vecchio's shot, Sydney Keremes put the Big Macs up 2-0 with a goal of her own.
Micayla Livingston put Norwin on the board with a goal, and Sami Farabaugh tied the shootout after a Canon-McMillan shot went wide. But the Big Macs retook the lead on an Alena Poljak goal, and after Melissa Harris' shot went wide, Canon-McMillan won the shootout on a goal by Abby Gillespie.
“I had the girls out there that wanted to shoot and could finish,” Palm said. “Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn't.”
Despite the finish, Palm called the 2013 campaign a “very successful season.” The Knights lost just two games during the regular season, to section champions North Allegheny and Penn-Trafford, and also defeated top teams like Baldwin, Peters Township and Penn-Trafford in a rematch.
The playoff committee gave Norwin the No. 8 seed despite some of the team's success, leading to a tough first-round matchup against Canon-McMillan (13-3-3).
“We expected it, since we didn't win our section, that we'd be somewhere after 5 or 6,” Palm said. “Going into the seeding with one or two losses and ending up an 8 seed is difficult, but you still have to win all four games no matter what.”
Palm commended the work of the senior class, including Abby Churchfield, Farabaugh, Harris, Imbarlina and Vecchio. The group's freshman season was Palm's first year as Norwin coach.
“They came in as freshmen in my freshman year as a coach, and to see them grow and be able to work with them — that's an amazing thing,” Palm said. “That's one of the things I love about this job, is that you can work with these young minds and grow with them as far as soccer goes and as far as life goes and teach them things along the way outside of soccer. It's very rewarding to see them improve and succeed, but disappointing to see it end.”