Norwin boys soccer aims for success in WPIAL postseason
Norwin boys soccer players huddled around a few picnic tables inside a pavilion at the Turner Valley Soccer Complex last week during a late-evening practice. Rain washed out the day’s workout so the team gathered and talked for about two hours under moth-circled light bulbs as the day dimmed to dusk outside and thin fog rolled over the Valley.
They discussed teamwork, character, accountability and memories of big plays in big games. They laughed and bonded, listened and learned. What didn’t exactly come up in the conversation, at least not in so many words but was there in (evil) spirit, was a WPIAL first-round playoff drought that has plagued the Knights for seven years.
“We try not to bring that up,” senior forward Carter Breen said. “We know. Seven years. It’s time for a change.”
Getting to the playoffs hasn’t been the problem for Norwin, a perennial contender. But the team has lost in the first round seven consecutive times, and has only one goal in the postseason since 2012. But there is optimism surrounding a talented -- and healthy -- group that coach Scott Schuchert said he is more confident about than any others he’s coached at Norwin.
No revisionist history, here. Just a team wanting to reverse course when it matters most.
“It’s been one of those things for us,” Schuchert said of the series of curse-like setbacks. “Since that goal (by Canon- McMillan), it’s been motivation ever since. It drives us all the time. We hadn’t even scored a goal in the playoffs in five years before last year. We’re confident this team can turn it around.”
Norwin was the opening-round host when it lost to Canon-McMillan last year, 2-1, giving up a pair of set-piece goals to finish the season 11-4-4.
“I wish I could have that game back,” said Breen, a fourth-year starter.
Breen will be the cornerstone of what appears to be a quick and experienced lineup. He had 19 goals and 13 assists last season and has found the net 32 times in his career.
“We have nine returning starters and that’s unheard of in Quad-A,” Breen said. “We’re a big group of friends, and we have chemistry.”
Schuchert said he expects 25 to 30 goals from Breen, who also is a kicker on the football team. He kicked a 45-yard field goal in the Knights’ scrimmage against Franklin Regional.
“He is one of the best around,” Schuchert said. “He brings a fun dynamic. He is so fast and he plays the center part of the field as well, if not better, than bigger players who usually play that position.”
Senior midfielder Jake Nebinski, who scored the goal in the playoffs, is a key, three-year starter. Senior Zach Ullom, whom Schuchert calls one of his most complete players.
“He brings that flashy play and complements Carter so well,” the coach said. “The sky’s the limit for him.”
Seniors Kyle Krotec and Ray Yanez each saw time in goal last year and that trend could continue, with a third keeper possibly joining the mix. Freshman Andy Yanez is an up-and-coming talent.
“We had some injuries last year, but everyone stepped up and kind of made a run for themselves,” Schuchert said. “Overall, we had a young team. But we have 14 seniors now; we have a good, core group. If we can get over some hurdles, and be ready for anything: injuries, weather, whatever is thrown at us, we should be OK.”
Schuchert thinks Norwin is a top-5 team in Class 4A. He thinks Connellsville and Plum are among the better teams in Section 3-AAAA and maybe in the WPIAL.