Norwin students help Riverhounds academy team win national title
Emily Harrigan, Lexy Kendro and Sam Wexell admitted to feeling nervous as they prepared to play in the U.S. Club Soccer National Cup XIII Finals earlier this month in Greensboro, N.C.
It didn't take long for the three to make their impact felt.
Harrigan, Kendro and Wexell all played significant roles in helping the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Development Academy's under-15 team win the championship in the U16 Premier Group.
Most of the players on the team played up one level in the tournament, but Harrigan, Kendro and Wexell played up two levels: They were call-ups from the Riverhounds' U14 team.
“The first couple minutes of the first game I was nervous, but once I went in and started playing, I was fine,” Harrigan said. “Everyone connected, and it was a lot of fun.”
Harrigan, Kendro and Wexell are all rising freshmen at Norwin High School, and the National Cup marked their first experience playing at the U16 level.
“It was so fun,” Kendro said. “The girls were huge, but it didn't really make a difference. It just made you have to play really fast and keep the ball on the move.”
Harrigan started at forward and scored the winning goal in the first half of the opening game, a 1-0 Riverhounds victory. She finished with three goals in the tournament.
Kendro earned the “captain's band” as player of the game in the first game of the tournament, started the second game and finished the tournament with one assist while playing significant minutes in the midfield.
After missing the first game of the tournament, Wexell served as the team's backup goaltender in the final three games. Wexell played the second half of games in goal while the starting keeper played in the field, and she allowed just one goal in 140 minutes of action. She was the winning keeper in the championship game.
“The quality of the teams was really great,” Wexell said. “We definitely didn't have any easy games. A lot of the teams we played were very well-respected and big organizations in the soccer world, so that was a really great experience to see what they were about.”
In the championship game, the Riverhounds played against a team from New Jersey. With the Riverhounds trailing, 2-1, in the final five minutes of the second half, Harrigan scored a goal that sent the game into overtime.
“That feeling was so amazing,” Harrigan said. “All the girls were so happy.”
The Riverhounds scored three goals in the second overtime of that game to finish with a 5-2 victory that sealed the national championship.
“As soon as the whistle blew, everybody came together and was hugging,” Harrigan said. “Some girls started crying. I don't think it really hit me until we were handed that trophy and went up on stage, and we were all sitting there and everybody was taking our picture. It was an amazing feeling.”
“It took a while to sink in,” Kendro said. “I still don't think it's sunk in yet.”
The three players said part of what made the experience so enjoyable was going through it together. They began playing together when they were young and consider each other best friends.
“I think it definitely brought the three of us closer together,” Wexell said. “Even though we've known each other for a long time, this just helped bond us a little more. It was just nice to have someone with you that also wasn't really used to the team, so you could talk to everyone and get used to it together.”