HERSHEY >> As the Neshaminy girls’ soccer team packed its bags and gathered its belongings Friday night, it was difficult to pin their emotions.
Sure, there were the tears that normally come with a season-ending loss but Neshaminy as a whole didn’t seem overly sad. Instead, the players almost seemed dissatisfied with the result of their final game of the season. Viewed as heavy underdogs, Neshaminy had stood toe-to-toe with one of the top-rated teams in the state in District 7’s Norwin.
That’s probably why Neshaminy was more angry than upset with their 1-0 loss in the PIAA Class 4A state championship at Hersheypark Stadium.
“Both teams had parts where they played really well and parts where they dropped off,” ‘Skins co-captain Genna Obringer said. “When we’d play really well, they’d drop off and when we would drop off, they’d play really well. Winning balls is big and sometimes you’d get them and sometimes you wouldn’t.”
It was yet another outstanding effort by Neshaminy’s back four and goalkeeper Riley Spingler. A junior who seized the starting keeper role full-time during the year, Spingler made 10 saves against the Knights’ attack paced by Rutgers recruit and senior Emily Harrigan.
Norwin, ranked second in the state by Top Drawer Soccer, had Neshaminy on its heels at times in the first half. Neshaminy won a state title in 2013, but none of the current players were a part of that time, so Friday was their first time playing on the wide pitch in Hershey.
They certainly weren’t intimidated, but Neshaminy also wasn’t itself for much of the first 40 minutes.
“We looked a little frazzled,” Neshaminy coach Chelsea Lovelace said. “Some of it, probably most of it, is the atmosphere of being in a state championship game. From the screaming people to the big stadium, it’s the size of the stage they’re playing on and we tried to tell them to relax and it’s just like any other game.”
Spingler answered the bell several times early in the first half, stuffing Lexi Kendro and Harrigan in the first seven minutes of play. Once the ‘Skins calmed down and handled their nerves, the play began to even out.
Defensively, the back four of Hannah Stonkus, Obringer, Nicole Palmer and Alex Ziegler was solid and kept Norwin in check. Harrigan did snap off five shots, but the last three were all from distance as the future Scarlet Knight started playing more and more hopeful balls.
“They show up every single game,” Lovelace said. “Our back four have been a brick wall and our goalkeeping by Riley has been amazing. They don’t make me nervous at all. If the ball’s in the air I know Nicole or Jenna is going to handle it and they cover for each other which is all you can ask for.”
The one thing Neshaminy couldn’t slow down on Friday was Norwin’s ability to get corner kicks. Of course, sometimes it’s a trade-off the defense has to make, giving up the set-piece to stop a clear shot on goal.
Lovelace said it herself, “it’s always corner kicks.”
Norwin scored on a corner with 6:27 left in regulation after Alyssa Victor’s service found Dani Iannuzzo at the far post. Iannuzzo, a sophomore, didn’t make it artistic by knocking the ball in off her body, but a goal is still a goal.
“We realized if we put out our full effort, we can keep going and that’s exactly what we did,” senior outside midfielder Jackie Ziegler said. “It’s unfortunate we lost in the end but we still got here.”
Neshaminy had a case for two handballs in the Norwin box, one prior to the Knights goal and the other, more obvious one following Iannuzzo’s marker.
“There were two handballs that could’ve been called that were pretty obvious, but that’s the game,” Lovelace said. “You’re not going to get everything and we can’t rely on calls to get a goal.”
As Lovelace countered, the ‘Skins also had two corners in the final two minutes where the ball sat in the six-yard box and Neshaminy couldn’t punch it in.
“You’re just hoping someone can run through it, knock it in, get any part of the body or a toe on it,” Lovelace said. “We just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
Neshaminy finishes the season at 19-7-1 and capped off a remarkable postseason that saw the ‘Skins enter District 1 play as the No. 12 seed, finish third in that tournament, upset then-top ranked Parkland in the first round of states and get all the way to Hershey.
Even a few minutes after her final high school game, Ziegler noted how far the team had come from its rocky beginning, when players and formations were in a constant state of flux.
“The second half, it started to come, but it was a little too late,” Lovelace said. “We started to get back to the things we do best. Like I told them all season, we could have pages of scouting reports but it all comes down to our effort and it was there, I just think our first half could have been better. That, and we needed to finish and we just couldn’t finish.”
NESHAMINY 1, NORWIN 0
NORWIN 0 1 – 1
NESHAMINY 0 0 – 0
Goals: N – Dani Iannuzzo (Alyssa Victor) 64th minute. Shots: No – 11, Ne – 4. Saves: No – Sam Wexell 4, Ne – Riley Spingler 10. Corner kicks: No – 7, Ne – 7.