Norwin field hockey hungry for success after missing postseason in ’17
By: William Whalen
Saturday, September 15, 2018 | 3:30 PM
The Norwin field hockey team doesn’t have a motto for the 2018 season, but if the Knights were to adopt one it might be “Two More Points.”
The motto would make for the perfect rally cry for what became the Knights’ shortcoming last season, which was missing out on a trip to the WPIAL Class AAA postseason by two points.
“They were disappointed and they wanted to go, and they worked real hard all season,” said Norwin coach Kim Kolesar, who is in her third season. “At the same time, they ended the season and beat North Allegheny, had a good record and tied for second in the section, and I’m proud of everything that they had accomplished and that left them a little hungry for this year.”
Hungry might be a bit of an understatement. The Knights are first in the chow line this season and aren’t taking anything for granted — especially points.
Despite splitting the regular-season series with Section 1-AAA rival North Allegheny last year, the Knights and Tigers tied for second place with identical 7-3 records before a points-differential tiebreaker sent the eventual WPIAL champion Tigers into a narrow four-team postseason bracket.
“The top four (teams) only make it to playoffs,” Kolesar said. “To make it to the playoffs is a do-or-die and sudden-death situation with the teams. It’s tough getting edged out like that.”
Nevertheless, the Knights are using it as motivation. Norwin (1-1) has seven returning starters from last season who will no doubt stoke the hunger pains of their teammates. Five have played together since they were freshmen. Kolesar said while her team is talented, the strength of this year’s team is how well they work together.
“We’ve always been a very strong defensive team, but I think our real big strength of this group is their cohesiveness and willingness to work together,” Kolesar said.
The Knights are led by four senior captains — defenders Alexis Birkland and Mackenzie Wensel, midfielder Kate Donofrio and forward Jessica Kolesar. Birkland and Kolesar earned all-section and All-WPIAL honors last season.
Jessica Kolesar turned in a four-goal performance last week in the Knights’ 7-0 win over Hempfield to open the regular season. Norwin also welcomes back last season’s assists leaders in senior forward Maura Columbus and Donofrio. The Knights’ offensive attack is rounded out by senior Isabella Ely.
Sophomore forward/midfielder Carly Kubacka has caught Kolesar’s eye and could earn varsity playing time as the season moves forward.
“She’ll play both junior varsity and varsity,” Kolesar said. “She’s just maturing, passionate. She’s all heart, and she just wants it.”
Playing alongside Donofrio at midfield will be sophomore Emma Mazur and first year-starters in junior Jaylene Warman and sophomore Karlie Pavlic.
On the back end, a stingy Norwin defense will be led by Birkland and Wensel, with first-year senior starter Brianna Hritz rounding out the line. Junior Bailee Kelly will get the nod at goalkeeper for the second straight season.
“They’ve come and worked really hard,” Kolesar said. “They worked really hard on skills and communication and know they’re coming in with the ability to do more.”
The Knights are adjusting to a new section following WPIAL realignment. Gone are Class AAA and Class AA. For at least the next two seasons, teams have been lumped into divisions. Norwin falls into Division I, a 10-team “super section” that combines the two Class AAA sections from a year ago. Each team is scheduled to play one another once.
“Honestly, every game counts, its do or die,” Kolesar said. “Every game, we’re going to look to see what we need to work on and what needs to be corrected and focus on the season.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.