Cheswick Christian girls dedicate season to former coach in need of heart transplant

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019 | 5:26 PM


Jacque Willis thought she might become a basketball coach someday, but she never expected it to be just a few months after she graduated college.

But when Clinton Blazevich had to step down for health reasons, Willis, 22, was elevated from assistant status to head coach of the Cheswick Christian Academy girls basketball team.

She is honored to take over a team returning four starters that is set to dedicate its season to Blazevich.

Blazevich, who is a pastor at Cheswick Christian, suffers from myocarditis and cardiomyopathy, which makes it harder for his heart to pump blood. He is in need of a heart transplant.

“The team, the school, the church and really the entire community has rallied around their family, and the basketball team is another aspect that can give him love,” Willis said. “The girls appreciate everything he’s done for them. It’s a chance to give back. Obviously the circumstances are not ideal. We wish he was healthy, but it’s an honor to dedicate something to him and show him the appreciation he deserves.”

Willis is a 2015 Cheswick Christian graduate who averaged 11 points her senior year. She graduated from Grove City College in May and is now a teacher at Cheswick Christian. She was an assistant under Blazevich while she was in college.

“When you leave college and get your first job in the real world, it is a transition whatever your profession is, and it’s the same when you go from being an assistant to a head coach,” Willis said. “I’ve had a lot of help, though. Clinton has been a great resource and (Cheswick Christian boys coach) Todd Rosio has been very helpful. I have great assistant coaches and the girls are easy to coach.”

Bethany Kosor was the lone starter that graduated.

Alexis Blazevich, Clinton’s oldest daughter, Allyson Drake and Kelsey Kiger are seniors who started last year and junior Daisy Hamilton is the team’s point guard. Each averaged between 6 and 10 points per game last year.

Willis spoke glowingly about her returning starters and how each complements the others.

Drake is the team’s center and top rebounder. Kiger is known for her scrappy play, and Willis called her the toughest player that she’s ever seen play for the Chargers. Hamilton runs the offense, and Willis believes she is the best point guard in the Southwestern Christian Athletic Conference even as a junior.

Blazevich was injured at the end of last season and missed the playoffs, and her absence was felt because she is the Chargers’ top defensive player.

With the circumstances surrounding her family, Alexis, like her father, has become a rallying point for the team.

“I think our team views Alexis as a role model because she’s walking through this heart condition with her dad,” Willis said. “She has to see her dad go through this, and she’s been super strong. She’s an emotional leader for us on and off the court.”

Nina Rasulova, a junior, will step in the starting lineup. Anna Ivanov, a guard, is another player off the bench who brings a strong defensive element to the team. Willis said there will be a few more players that will see minutes.

The Chargers open their season Tuesday at Neighborhood Academy.

Cornerstone Prep has been Cheswick Christian’s biggest rival within the division the last couple years, and Portersville Christian is traditionally a strong team in the SWCAC. Willis wholeheartedly believes her team can compete with anyone in the league and can contend for a league title. She said she reminds her team of that every day.

“These girls are so talented, and they believe in themselves,” Willis said. “They all want to win, not only for themselves, but for Clinton. He is a huge part of their lives. That’s an added motivation. These girls are special and I hope they know that.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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