Last Updated: Tue Nov 15, 2022 - 1:05PM
During her high school career at Norwin, Sam Wexell was arguably the best soccer goalkeeper in the entire WPIAL. She enjoyed an incredible run, both individually and collectively, with the Knights, winning three championships. Wexell recently concluded her fifth year on the pitch at Ohio University, where she continued to achieve success. Wexell is the latest spotlight athlete for the Westmoreland Alum Q&A.
Wexell made an impact as a freshman for Norwin in 2014, as she helped the Knights achieve a mark of 15-3-1 overall, including 11-0-1 in the section. However, in the postseason, Norwin fell to Plum 1-0 in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA bracket. That season, Wexell compiled a mark of 10-3-1, registering a clean sheet seven times.
As a sophomore, Wexell helped lead Norwin to a championship campaign. After the Knights went 12-0-0 in section action, they defeated Franklin Regional, Plum, and Seneca Valley to reach the WPIAL Class AAA Championship match. In that tilt, the Knights bested Upper Saint Clair 3-0 to win the first district crown since 1997. In the PIAA playoffs, Norwin knocked off Seneca Valley and Downingtown West, but lost in a rematch against USC in the semifinals, finishing with a record of 24-1-0. Individually, Wexell amassed a record of 23-1 with a goals-against average (GAA) of 0.33 and 18 shutouts.
In 2016, Norwin achieved the repeat, as the Knights went 21-1-1, including 9-0-1 in the section. In the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs, Norwin defeated Penn Hills, Upper Saint Clair, and Fox Chapel Area, setting the stage for a championship showdown against Canon-McMillan. In that clash, Norwin prevailed 3-1. In the state postseason, Norwin downed the Foxes, but fell in the rematch against the Big Macs in the quarterfinals.
As a senior in 2017, Wexell helped Norwin go 21-2-1, including 8-1-1 in the section. In the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs, the Knights triumphed against Canon-McMillan, Kiski Area, and North Allegheny, but came up short against rival Penn-Trafford in the title game. However. the Knights rebounded in the state playoffs, defeating State College, North Allegheny, and Conestoga Valley to reach the PIAA Class 4A Championship. In that clash, Norwin edged Neshaminy 1-0 to claim the second state title in team history. Wexell posted clean sheets in all four PIAA matches, and as a result of her play for the campaign, she was named First-Team All-State.
For her career, Wexell compiled a school-record 53 shutouts.
Following her graduation, Wexell matriculated to Ohio University, but she redshirted for the Bobcats in the 2018 campaign.
On the pitch as a redshirt freshman in 2019, Wexell appeared in four matches, recording a mark of 2-0-0 with a 1.41 GAA and a save percentage of .500. Collectively, the Bobcats went 11-9-1 overall that year, including 5-5-1 in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). In the conference tournament, the Bobcats defeated Western Michigan in the quarterfinals, but fell to Eastern Michigan in the semifinals.
In the 2020 season, which was moved to the spring of 2021, Wexell played in five games, compiled a 1-4-0 record with a 1.60 GAA, a .667 save percentage, and one shutout. Playing a conference-only schedule, Ohio went 3-7-0.
Back to the traditional fall season last year, Wexell emerged as a top keeper, as she played in all 19 games, posting a record of 11-5-3, with a goals-against average of 0.86, a save percentage of .770, and nine shutouts. As a result of her play, Wexell garnered First-Team All-MAC accolades. The Bobcats amassed a mark of 11-5-3, including 7-1-3 in the MAC. In the conference tournament, Ohio fell to Kent State in the semifinals.
This fall, Wexell appeared in 13 matches, compiling a record of 4-4-1, with a 1.40 GAA, a save percentage of .750, and a pair of shutouts. The Bobcats went 10-7-2, including 6-4-1 in the conference. In the MAC Tournament, Ohio fell to Miami of Ohio in the quarterfinals.
With her season recently concluded, Sam dedicated time to answer questions about the mental aspect of playing keeper, the biggest factors in Norwin’s soccer success, and what advice she’d give herself as a high school freshman.
Q: You have started the vast majority of games in net the past two seasons. How have you handled that responsibility?
A: I think that the complete support of my teammates and coaches has made my role so much easier. Even when I have made mistakes or felt like I didn’t play my best, my teammates and coaches have always had my back. There was never any finger pointing or blame placed on anyone. We have always faced every bit of adversity as a group, which took a lot of pressure off of me. Not to mention, I have been lucky enough to play behind an incredible back line in each of my years here. This has allowed me to be confident in each game, knowing that my defenders are the best of the best.
Q: What are your best attributes on the pitch?
A: When I was younger, I struggled a lot with playing with the ball at my feet. When I got to college, it was clear that I needed to improve this aspect of my game to compete at this level. These past two years, I have felt that playing the ball with my feet has been one of my greatest strengths. When my defenders can feel comfortable in dropping the ball back to me, it can often minimize some dangerous situations. I also think I have developed strong communication skills throughout the years. Communicating what I see to my defenders and making sure that everyone is in the right position is an essential job of a goalkeeper. As I have grown more confident over the years, this has become one of my greatest attributes.
Q: How have you honed the mental aspect of playing keeper?
A: Any good goalkeeper needs to have a short memory. For me, this means staying focused on the task at hand, even if I have made a mistake. I have been able to improve the mental side of my game by focusing on my pregame routine. Before every game, I meditate and visualize my performance. Including meditation in my pregame routine has been vital to my success. It allows me to relax and reduce any nerves. After meditating, I feel calm and confident in my ability to perform well in any stressful situation.
Q: Your team posted a winning record in the conference, but fell in the tournament quarterfinals this season. How did you evaluate the team's play?
A: Our team dealt with a lot of adversity this season. We had a few injuries that required others to step up in those roles, and that’s exactly what they did. We had players transition to new positions and step up in big games. Because of this, I can’t help but feel anything but proud of the team after this season. Naturally, we all wish we could have performed better in the tournament quarterfinal, but we are really proud of our effort to finish out the regular season strong and qualify for the tournament.
Q: How did you fare in terms of meeting the individual and team goals you set for the season?
A: As a team, we had set some pretty high goals for this season. But, I think that could be said about any team. At the beginning of the year, you set expectations high to rise to that standard. Even when we were ranked No. 1 in preseason, we never thought it would be an easy journey. In the MAC especially, every single game is going to be competitive. I have used the term “dog fight” throughout this season, because we knew that every game would be a battle. As I mentioned, we would have wanted to make it further in the tournament, but I will always be proud of the effort we put forward this year and the way we were strong in the face of adversity. Personally, my only goal for this season was to give my team the best chance of winning every single game. I suffered a concussion during preseason that caused me to miss about a month of training. Sitting at home for a month during my last season of soccer was incredibly challenging, emotionally and physically. After this injury, I refocused my expectations for the year to just enjoy every bit of it that I could. Of course, I wanted to play well, but I was able to realize the magnitude of my last season as an athlete. All I really cared about was that my team was performing well, that I was being a good leader and that I got to spend time with my teammates.
Q: What is your favorite moment of your college career?
A: My favorite moment of my college career was playing in front of a record-setting crowd at our home field. We had over 1,000 fans in attendance, and it was an incredible feeling. It really felt like all of Athens was there supporting us.
Q: What led to your decision to attend Ohio?
A: When touring colleges, I had never really felt that moment of being where I was supposed to be until I visited Ohio University. The minute I stepped on campus, I was sold. From the beautiful landscape to the architecture, I fell in love with the campus. I also felt so welcomed by the team and coaches. I knew that even if I wasn’t playing soccer, I would be very happy to attend OU.
Q: What is your major, and ideal future profession?
A: I am a psychology major, and I hope to pursue a career as a high school guidance counselor. I spent a lot of time planning to pursue human resources, but as I reflected on why I became a psych major in the first place, I knew I wanted to pursue a career with the best opportunity to help people. In my time at Norwin, I received a lot of support from our guidance counselors. They had a tremendous impact on me, so it only seemed fitting to pursue this career where I could help other students navigate their young lives.
Q: What has been your most enjoyable college course?
A: My most enjoyable college course has definitely been my Introduction to Coaching course. Like most athletes, I have a deep love for sports in general. Especially being from the Pittsburgh area, I have grown up seeing all the different ways that sports bring people together. It has been very fulfilling to be able to study coaching at a college level. Whether I end up coaching a soccer team or my own kids in Tiny Kickers, I would love to be able to coach at some level in the future.
Q: You were part of a dominant soccer program at Norwin. What were the biggest factors in that success?
A: At Norwin, I was surrounded by some pretty incredible talent. From my sophomore year and on, it felt like this passion inside of us was growing to win the state championship. We always felt like we were capable of doing it. When it came to our senior year, myself and others like Emily Arnold, Lexy Kendro, Emily Harrigan, Alyssa Victor, Natalie Durmis, Katy Ericson, and many incredible others just felt a strong sense of confidence and yearning to take it all the way. I have always felt that in high school soccer especially, it comes down to the senior class. How badly do they want to win? How high will they set the expectations? When it was our final year, we refused to settle for anything other than a championship. In addition, we did a lot of work behind the scenes. I can only speak for the defense, but we spent a considerable amount of time watching film and bonding into a cohesive unit. I felt so confident playing behind this back line that we expected a shutout every single game.
Q: What was your fondest high school memory?
A: My fondest high school memory was definitely winning the state championship. It was such an incredible sense of euphoria. It truly felt like we had earned it. We also had an amazing student section supporting us all the way to Hershey. It was a picture-perfect day.
Q: If you could face anyone, past or present, for a penalty kick, who would you choose? What would be the outcome?
A: If I could face anyone for a penalty kick, I would choose Lionel Messi. Obviously, the odds of me saving this penalty are about slim to none. With that being said, it would be an honor to even stand in goal against the greatest of all time. I would be in complete awe just watching him set up for the kick. Of course, there is that thousandth of a percentage that I might be lucky enough to guess the right way and even get a touch on his shot. This, of course, would be the greatest accomplishment of any goalkeeper’s career.
Q: Which song or type of music gets you in the right mindset before a game?
A: Before a game, I am always listening to rap. After I do my meditation, and I am in a calm mindset, I try to get as hyped up as I can. This usually consists of Drake, Trippie Redd, and 21 Savage.
Q: What is your favorite holiday?
A: My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. As a college student, Thanksgiving is usually the first time I get to go home all semester. This makes Thanksgiving that much more special to me. I am also very passionate about food, so Thanksgiving is just my perfect day.
Q: What advice would you give yourself as a high school freshman?
A: If I was able to give advice to myself as a high school freshman, I would give this advice: relax. I am a naturally anxious person, and I used to feel so much stress over my future. Did I choose the right school? Am I going to play well at the college level? Will I make friends? Looking back now, it is so easy to see how my life turned out exactly how it was supposed to. I had an incredible college experience and met people that I will love for the rest of my life. I also love who I turned out to be. At this point in my life, I feel nothing but gratitude. I would love to be able to tell my 14-year-old self that everything works out exactly how it is supposed to.