Cheswick Christian girls playing inspired basketball

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Monday, January 20, 2020 | 6:18 PM


Veteran experience, team balance and ongoing inspiration from its former coach are just a few things, first-year Cheswick Christian Academy girls basketball coach Jacque Willis said, that have contributed to the team’s strong performance.

The Chargers entered the week 8-4 overall and 3-1 in the Southwest Christian Athletic Conference, and Willis said the team’s best games are in front of it.

“The girls have lived up to the expectations so far, but they know there are things they can do better,” said Willis, a former CCA player and an assistant coach the past four years with Clinton Blazevich.

Blazevich stepped down as coach over the summer for health reasons. He suffers from myocarditis and cardiomyopathy, which makes it harder for his heart to pump blood. He was fitted with a heart pump, and he needs a heart transplant.

“There was a little bit of a learning curve with me as the new head coach, even though I have been an assistant. But the girls have handled all the expectations and what Clinton has gone through as a team as a family,” Willis said. “Their success is because of the their talent, dedication and the foundation that has been laid.”

Cheswick Christian had no trouble with Hillcrest Christian on Friday, winning 42-14 behind a 13 points from sophomore Olivia Rochkind and 11 from senior Kelsey Kiger.

Two days earlier, the Chargers battled WPIAL Class A Aquinas Academy before losing, 40-31. Leading scorer Daisy Hamilton (10.5 ppg.), a junior point guard, led the way with 13 points.

“It’s such a good experience to face a team like that,” Willis said. “They start earlier than us and end later than us. They get so many more hours in the gym. We didn’t win the game, but it was big for the girls’ confidence to play well against a team like Aquinas. That’s a game where we’re better for playing it.”

Willis said the team continues to draw inspiration from Blazevich, a vocal spectator at games who also occasionally imparts his knowledge at practice.

“He is so positive, and he still is one of the team’s biggest fans,” Willis said. “He has been through so much, and he is still wants to be a part of the team as much as he can.”

Blazevich said the inspiration is a two-way street, as the team continues to be a source of strength for him.

“I am finally feeling more like myself,” said Blazevich, who battled through pneumonia and a cold while getting used to his medication levels.

“I enjoy being physically able to help them with a number of the practices. That’s a blessing to me. Jacque is doing such an amazing job. I just want to lend a hand every so often.”

Blazevich said it is hard not to coach as he watches his daughter, Alexis, a senior and the team’s leading rebounder, and her teammates.

“I’ll catch myself and realize I need to calm down,” he said. “But these girls are exciting to watch, the way they play hard and play for each other. That is so meaningful.”

For Alexis, knowing her father is able to come to practices and attend games means everything.

“It inspires me and the whole team, just hearing him during games, because he’s loud,” she said. “When I hear him, I get excited. I like looking up and seeing him there.

“We’re so grateful for every moment he is able to be with us in a practice or a game. I try to not take anything for granted, whether it’s in basketball, in school or whatever else. I draw a lot of strength from him.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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