Girls basketball preview: After successful run, high expectations remain for Cheswick Christian

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020 | 4:03 PM


Cheswick Christian Academy girls basketball coach Jacque Willis said it was hard to put into words how special last season was for the program.

“The girls were in the situation where their beloved head coach (Clinton Blazevich) was going through a very serious condition where he needed a heart transplant, and a 22-year-old coach fresh out of college takes over the reins of a very experienced team,” said Willis, who helped guide the Chargers to an 18-7 overall record, a 7-1 mark in Southwest Christian Athletic Conference play and a trip to the conference semifinals.

“It was very emotional as (Clinton’s) daughter (Alexis) was a captain of the team and one of the top players. The whole team had this emotional trauma hit them, but they came together with such maturity and poured their heart and soul into every practice and every game. They fought for each other, for Clinton and me, and they had the parents and the entire school rally around them. I don’t think I will have an experience like that ever again.”

Clinton Blazevich, while waiting word on a heart transplant, helped with practices and attended games when he was able. He received his new heart in April, and Willis said he continues to do well.

Because of covid concerns, logistics and safety measures put in place, Cheswick got a later-than-usual start to its practice schedule. After several weeks of workouts since early November, the team members are ready to go.

“There is a lot of excitement for this season,“ said senior point guard Daisy Hamilton, one of two returning starters.

The other starter back is senior guard/forward Nina Rasulova. Hamilton and Rasulova will serve as team captains.

“There was some thought that we might not have a season. So, with the masks and everything else we have to follow, we are taking everything day by day and are grateful we get to be together as a team,” Hamilton said.

Cheswick Christian is scheduled to start its season Dec. 18 with a conference game at First Baptist (Butler) followed by a road matchup at rival Cornerstone Prep (West Mifflin) on Jan. 5.

“The biggest chunk of our season has been pushed into January,” Willis said.

“We’ve had the same time to prepare for the season as we normally do, it’s just all pushed up a little bit from the normal.”

Willis said the schedule has 12 to 14 regular-season games leading into the conference playoffs in mid-February. The slate also features matchups with WPIAL foes Aquinas Academy (Jan. 12) and Trinity Christian (Jan. 21 and Feb. 13). The schedule is subject to change.

Cheswick will match up with Portersville Christian, the defending SWCAC champion, Feb 9.

The team lost Alexis Blazevich and fellow starters Allyson Drake and Kelsey Kiger to graduation.

Junior forward Olivia Rochkind, junior guard Abby Zubak and sophomore forward Bella Cullaj are expected to move into the starting lineup.

Rochkind came off the bench last year and led the team in scoring at 9.8 points per game. Rasulova (9.2 ppg.) and Hamilton (8.4) were second and third on the scoring list.

“Olivia is coming into the staring lineup even though she played starter minutes last year,” Willis said. “We had six girls for five starting spots. We are going to count on (Olivia, Daisy and Nina) to again lead our scoring.”

Rochkind and Rasulova were in the top three in rebounding, Rochkind and Hamilton led the team in steals and Hamilton was the team’s assist leader.

“Bella and Abby were the next two off the bench after Olivia,” Willis said. “I firmly believe they would’ve gotten starter minutes or been starters on other teams. They have been steady producers. They both will add good defense into the mix as well as a solid inside game.”

Willis said Daylin Rivera, a junior forward, should get substantial minutes off the bench, as well as three freshmen who are growing into the program.

“This team is really coming together, and I think there is potential for another great season,” Willis said.

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

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