It was an uncharacteristically brisk night at Sweeney Field when the Saint Joseph’s women’s soccer team hosted Princeton on September 17. The low-scoring affair featured a penalty kick, tenacious defense throughout and even a power outage that left half of the field in darkness for about 45 minutes.
On the bench sat freshman midfielder Paige Norris. So far this season, Paige has appeared in one game, the Hawks 5-1 victory over Longwood on September 6.
The freshman is doing what all freshmen do, paying her dues and taking advantage of every learning opportunity from head coach Jess Mannella and the entire SJU coaching staff.
Norris hasn’t had the typical road to Saint Joseph’s that many other incoming freshmen share. Originally from the area, Norris moved to London with her family just before she entered high school. She attended the American School in London where she blossomed as a soccer player and experienced the sport on the international stage.
“In general, especially in England, (soccer is) definitely more popular,” she said. “Everyone has their different team that they support and it’s on TV all the time.
She had a decorated career in high school, earning MVP honors and serving as captain as a senior. She led the team in assists as a junior and senior and was a member of the Independent Schools Football Association U18 National Team from 2011 to 2013.
To say Norris has ties to Saint Joseph’s would be an understatement. Crimson is in the Norris bloodline. Her parents, Jim and Dinae, are both members of the SJU Athletics Hall of Fame, and each has multiple family members who are Saint Joseph’s alums as well.
“My wife went here, my father went here, my sister, her brother. There’s a lot of us in the family who are Hawks,” beamed Norris’ father, Jim.
Originally from Audubon, Pa., and graduate of Bishop Kenrick High School, Jim was a decorated member of the men’s track team from 1982-85. He was a member of SJU’s first Big 5 cross country championship team, competed internationally on six USA teams, and set school records for 1,500 meters (indoor) and 3,000 meters, with the former record still standing today.
“It’s fun to do things individually, but that team win still sticks in (my) mind,” he said of winning the Big 5 Championship his freshman year, his proudest moment during his tenure at Saint Joseph’s. “I’ll never forget coming out of the woods and the place just erupted. There was a tremendous amount of camaraderie with our team.”
That Big 5 championship snapped a two-decade long streak by rival Villanova, which made the victory even sweeter.
A native of Media, PA and graduate from Cardinal O’Hara High School, Dinae (nee Rafferty) was a standout Hawks from 1985-88. Setting Saint Joseph’s records in both the high jump and outdoor 3,000 meters, she was twice named an All-East performer.
Despite the lineage, Saint Joseph’s wasn’t a slam-dunk for Paige when she was deciding on what college to attend. It wasn’t until she visited the campus and got a feel for life on Hawk Hill that she knew that this was the place she needed to be.
“It wasn’t originally on my radar,” she said. “Once I visited the school and talked to people who went here and got a feel for the campus, it felt like the right fit.”
Even though her parents were happy she ultimately chose Saint Joseph’s, they fell back and let her make her decision completely on her own.
“They were surprisingly very laid back and didn’t put any pressure to even steer me in this direction,” she said. “Even once I showed interest (in Saint Joseph’s), I think they were surprised that it even made it onto my list.”
“We were very low-key, but we were privately very excited,” said Jim. “We felt like she was going to have a great support structure here. It’s a great school and it was exciting for all of us.”
At the end of the day, Paige’s choice of Saint Joseph’s had nothing to do with the legacies her parents left on Hawk Hill. Instead, it was influence by the education and most importantly, the community that made her feel at home.
Those qualities are what Jim has always admired about the school and believed to be most important.
“It was a tiny school when I was here. It felt, in a good way, very small. I very much value the Jesuit education and that stays with me to this day. Being part of a very close-knit community. The school’s grown so much since I’ve been here but they’ve been able to keep that sense of community,” he said.
She has only been on campus for about a month, but Paige already knows that she made the right decision in choosing Saint Joseph’s.
“I’m really happy with my choice,” she said.
Finishing nonconference play with a 4-4-2 record, the team has fought hard all year and been in every game, giving fans hope and anticipation for the rest of this season and beyond. Norris is excited about the future of the program and her career at Saint Joseph’s.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how I develop (as a player) just playing every day with a team that’s at this level,” she said.
Norris also lettered in track in high school, and when asked if she was going to follow in her parent’s footsteps and run track at Saint Joseph’s, she remained focused solely on soccer.
“I think I’m probably just going to stick with soccer,” she laughed.Jim still lives and works in London, but often gets to travel to Philadelphia for work. That trip across the pond now has the added bonus of getting to see his daughter play soccer for his alma mater and write her own legacy at Saint Joseph’s.