Norwin freshman emerges as featured playoff performer

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021 | 5:37 PM


Next girl up.

It’s the mantra Norwin has adopted out of necessity as two key players were sidelined with season-ending injuries just as the Lady Knights were poised to make a serious playoff push.

Norwin (13-4) still made that push, but that it did so without sophomore Savannah Schneck and junior Alyssa Laukus, both starters for most the season, might come as a slight surprise. But what seemed like two steps back allowed another player to take one giant step forward.

Freshman Lauren Palangio, a 6-foot-2 forward, moved into the starting rotation in early February and has found her groove as a varsity player.

“She keeps getting better and better,” Norwin senior guard Mara Polczynski said. “Before the games, you don’t see nerves with her. She kills it.”

Palangio led Norwin with 17 points Saturday in a 53-33 win over Butler that propelled the third-seeded Knights into the semifinals. They will visit No. 2 Upper St. Clair (14-2) at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

“It was really shocking to see Savannah get hurt,” Palangio said. “I love Savannah. God works in mysterious ways. Maybe it was supposed to happen.”

Palangio added size to a guard-oriented lineup and provided a post presence.

Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said Palangio is not shying away from her elevated role, which probably would not have taken shape until next year.

“The moment is not too big for her,” Brozeski said.

Palangio’s transition to the starting five has been a group effort, she said.

“A lot of the (older) girls have really helped me. I was super nervous before,” she said. “The jump from JV to varsity is huge.”

Laukus was injured in a recent practice and has missed two games. Junior Maggie Race started Saturday in her absence.

The injuries have stretched Norwin’s already deep bench and thrust some players into more demanding positions.

Count Palangio and Race among that group.

Norwin coasted past North Hills in the first round, 55-12, and toppled Butler for the third time this season, again by a double-figure margin.

The injuries have given Norwin some perspective, even with a pair of games where the Knights were heavy favorites to get to the semis.

“We have been improving all season,” Polczynski said. “We didn’t come into any game and take any team lightly.”

Upper St. Clair will be a different type of challenge, and Norwin hopes the Panthers are not the team that exploits the missing pieces in the rotation.

The Panthers eliminated Norwin in the quarterfinals last year, 52-39.

“The first time we played them, we were caught off guard,” Norwin junior Brianna Zajicek said. “We will be more prepared this time.”

Said Brozeski: “It’s going to be a challenge for our girls, but we’re looking forward to it. They will be ready for us.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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