No off-season for Lenape standout

Posted: April 14, 2013

While so many top high school juniors are trying to impress college recruiters, Lenape's Courtney Norton has known her destination for some time.

A trend in college athletics is to attempt to get oral commitments from recruits as early as possible. Norton thought Rutgers was a great fit, so in August she told the Scarlet Knights soccer program that she would be coming - in the fall of 2014.

With the pressure of having to make a decision long gone, Norton has worked on her game, playing at an extremely high level.

"When I go to tournaments with my club team, everybody gets stressed out playing because of college coaches there," she said. "Sometimes, my future college coaches come to watch, but I don't have to worry about trying to impress people."

No, what Norton worries about is continuing to refine an already impressive game.

She is a defender, but that tells only part of the story. For Lenape, she frequently played stopper and also was a focal point of starting the attack from the back.

She said Rutgers recruited her to play a center- back position, which makes sense with her vision, knowledge, strength, and ability to win balls in the air.

She also plays for the PDA Warriors club team, among the best in the state, and recently took her skills abroad when she competed for the 1995/1996 Region 1 Olympic Development Program team during a European tour.

Region 1 consists of top players from Maine to West Virginia, and 1995/1996 refers to the years in which the players on the team were born. Last month, the team took a 10-day trip, competing in Spain and then Portugal. Four players were from New Jersey, including Gloucester Catholic senior and Old Dominion recruit Madison Hogan.

The Region 1 squad played against older players, some between 18 and 25, Norton estimated. And she said she got to experience a different brand of soccer. The European players had more finesse and were more apt to take on defenders one on one.

"They were really tricky with their touches and very precise and very creative," Norton said. "The American side usually likes to work really hard, and push people off the ball."

Apparently, the Europeans weren't too comfortable with the physical play, which means they wouldn't enjoy life in the Olympic Conference American Division, where Lenape, Eastern, and many other top teams compete in what is usually among the best divisions in the state.

"When you tried to push them, they would go flying and try to get the call," Norton said of the European players. "But it was great to be introduced to a different style of play."

And what about the cultural aspect?

This was her first time in Europe, and Norton said it was an eye-opening experience.

So soccer not only has offered a wonderful outlet for competition and a future education, but it also has enabled Norton to visit parts of the United States and beyond that she wouldn't have had the chance to do without competing.

"It was a great experience, seeing how life is overseas, seeing the style of soccer, visiting different places," she said.

And even though she plays with extreme confidence, she gained even more overseas, and that no doubt will help her next season with a Lenape program that has won six consecutive South Jersey Group 4 titles.

"Not every player gets to go overseas and play, and that experience is really going to help me a lot with my soccer career," she said.

Actually, her career was going along fine before the trip, and this just might have helped one of the state's top defenders reach yet another level.

Contact Marc Narducci at Follow on Twitter @sjnard.

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