Sondre Norheim uses maturity and age to aid Syracuse defense

first_img Published on October 2, 2017 at 9:28 pm Contact Nick: [email protected] | @nick_a_alvarez In the first half of then-No. 11 Syracuse’s loss to Cornell on Sept. 19, defender Sondre Norheim tried to thread a pass through a pack of Big Red forwards on the right of SU’s formation. If completed, the pass could’ve given the Orange a breakaway in a scoreless game. But it was intercepted, and Cornell created its own scoring opportunity.Cornell crossed the ball to the right wing of its formation and George Pedlow found himself one-on-one with SU goalie Hendrik Hilpert. Pedlow whipped a shot about four feet off the ground, seemingly out of Hilpert’s reach. But before the ball found nylon, Norheim darted to the penalty box, jutted out his right leg and deflected the shot up and over the crossbar, preserving a clean sheet. That recovery displayed how Norheim’s instincts are more advanced than a typical freshman.“He has a lot of gifts that athletes would wish to have,” Hilpert said of Norheim. “He’s fast, he’s tall, he’s athletic. He has everything a defender needs.”At 20 years old, Norheim is the second oldest freshman defender in the Atlantic Coast Conference, behind 22-year-old Jon Ingason of Virginia Tech. Both are international student-athletes who left their home country in pursuit of better competition.Born and raised in Bryne, Norway, Norheim started playing soccer at age 5. After standing out in high school — which is five years long in Norway — he dedicated more time to soccer by playing with a local club team during his gap year. Now, with No. 21 SU (5-4-2, 0-3-1 ACC), Norheim has started all but one of the team’s 11 games. Along with junior Kamal Miller and a rotating group of wingbacks, Norheim looks to shore up a defense that allows 1.36 goals per game.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“I think I have a little advantage with age,” Norheim said. “I got the physical part down. I’ve got speed and stuff like that.”Last year, playing with his club team, Norheim pondered the future. Julian Veen Uldal, a friend who played at South Carolina for two years, encouraged Norheim to check out America. So, Norheim contacted College Scholarship USA, a company that puts interested foreign students in touch with U.S. schools. Within two days of hearing about Norheim, SU associate head coach Jukka Masalin was on a flight to watch Norheim play against another future player, forward Petter Stangeland.Norheim remembered his gap year in Norway as a crucial time in his career. He frequently played against men two to four years older than him and was forced to adapt and improve to keep up.“In that year, I felt like I developed like more of an adult player,” Norheim said.There, Norheim developed his greatest strength: heading the ball. The 6-foot-4-inch defender was always taller than other kids and won headers easily. However, when he entered the men’s league, he needed to hone his technique.Working with his father, Norheim said, taught him to time his jump correctly. In order to win a header, usually a player leaps and hits the ball at the highest point possible while battling with another player.“As a central defender,” Norheim said. “You have to be good at headers. That’s something I’ve worked on over the last year. When I go up, I win it.”Typically, SU deploys Miller, its best defender, against the opposition’s best forward. That often leaves Norheim alone in the middle as a center back, the backline’s lynchpin. In Norway, Norheim played in a similar role in his club’s 3-5-2 formation and the familiarity has helped him adjust.Norheim has fit in “perfectly,” SU head coach Ian McIntyre and teammates said. Miller referenced Norheim as a prototypical SU defender. Hilpert said Norheim is off to a better start than Miles Robinson, a former Orange defender and the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s MLS SuperDraft. During a team meeting two weeks ago, McIntyre praised and embarrassed the freshman by pegging him as a future anchor of a program known for its defense.“I think he’s one of the best new defenders in the ACC this year,” McIntyre said. “It’s been a baptism by fire. He’s got a very bright future ahead of him.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img