In college, having a successful program is always satisfying, but the magnitude of the success reaches a new level once a coach starts to win with the players he recruits.
The same can be said in high school ... well, sort of. Just ask Norwin girls soccer coach Jeff Palm.
Palm is in his fourth year as Knights head coach and has a senior-laden team ready to make a run for a championship.
"It would be extra special," Palm said. "This has always been our goal. After working with them for four years and seeing them grow, this is what we work hard for."
Palm and the Knights almost reached the pinnacle of success in his rookie year as coach when the team advanced to the WPIAL championship match before losing to Peters Township.
The Knights, led by seniors Melissa Harris, Sierra Vecchio, Sami Farabaugh, Abby Churchfield and Cayla Imbarlina, are off to another stellar start and are ranked No. 5 in Class AAA with an 10-1-2 record overall and 7-1-1 mark in Section 1.
Norwin was ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL for the majority of the season but a 2-0 loss Sept. 23 to section rival Penn-Trafford (11-3, 10-0) halted its run and moved it to second place in the section.
"They realized how much they need to work after that loss," Palm said. "We don't pay too much attention to the rankings because it can be a distraction.
"We were playing their style more than ours. In order to win we have to continue the style of play that we use."
The Knights got back to their style and winning ways after the loss, winning their next four games before playing Franklin Regional to a scoreless tie Wednesday.
Palm's squad will have its chance to redeem its loss against the Warriors Wednesday in the final home game of the season for the Knights. The matchup could have determined who wins the section title, but the tie with Franklin ruined that scenario.
"It has been Penn-Trafford and Norwin for as long as I can remember," Palm said. "If we want to win the section [title], we have to beat them but obviously need to beat the other teams as well."
The Knights have the firepower on offense to take down the Warriors and the rest of their opponents but it comes down to them being able to bring their "A" game and performing under the lights.
On a team relying on their seniors to step up, sophomore Micayla Livingston leads the team in scoring with 12 goals and does a phenomenal job setting up her teammates.
Harris and Vecchio are two of the captains for the Knights and are in charge of control of the middle of the field.
"They are very important to us because their ability to distribute the ball and find targets is key so we can have more success," Palm said.
Farabaugh and Churchfield are the two defensive captains.
"They are able to control any attacks any teams put on us and have been very successful stopping teams from scoring on us in the run of play," Palm said.
Many teams try to load up their non-conference schedule with a bunch of cupcake teams to pad their stats and give them confidence. This is not the route the Knights take to get better.
Norwin was able to weather the storm with a tough non-section schedule in the beginning of the season and has its eyes set on some top opponents at the end of the season when it travels to three-time defending state champion Peters Township and No. 3 North Allegheny.
"It will definitely prepare us for the playoffs," Palm said. "We set our non-conference games like that. Peters has always been a thorn in our side. I think we have a pretty good chance to string some wins together at the end of the year. The girls are finally putting the pieces together."
With the level of competition the Knights will face mixed with the talent they bring to the field, Palm is looking to go one step further than his first year on the job and bring a girls soccer championship back to Norwin.
"The last time we won was in 2006 and '07 when we went back-to-back," Palm said. "I think we have the makeup of a team that can win a championship. We are strong defensively and have a good senior goalie with Cayla [Imbarlina] with playoff experience. Even some of our younger players have had experience in the playoffs. We are capable of winning it. It's just a matter of us playing our game."hssoccer