Norwin girls basketball again set to contend for Section 1 title

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Friday, December 4, 2020 | 3:31 PM


Just as Norwin girls basketball was getting started this season, the Knights had to stop.

When a team member tested positive for covid-19, the girls had to shut down for a week and could interact only via Zoom meetings.

Coach Brian Brozeski did his best to keep the team engaged and focused.

Still, the coach is eager to implement schemes and strategy in person when the team resumes practice Monday.

Brozeski said the greatest challenge to managing a season during covid is attuning to change.

“You have to be flexible and adapt to the constant changes,” he said. “We will need to understand that we truly will need to focus on one day at a time and maximize our growth potential on those days.”

While Brozeski knows what his team will look like most years, this one doesn’t come with a manual. The Knights’ identity remains to be seen, but they plan to savor every moment together.

“Honestly, we are still in the initial stages of identifying strengths and weaknesses of potential groupings and trying to provide opportunities for those groupings to work and play together and develop chemistry,” he said. “The team has representation from all grade levels that bring their own unique strengths to the team. Our expectation is to approach each practice and game as though it could be our last because more so than ever you never know when it might actually be your last time in the gym.”

Norwin went 18-5 last year and tied North Allegheny for the Section 1 title. The team advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals for the seventh straight season.

The Knights have made the playoffs 18 straight years.

To extend that streak, Brozeski will look to a three-player core to prevent any inertia.

Senior guards Mara Polczynski and Danielle Rosso return as starters and will lead the backcourt and provide scoring.

Rosso, a 5-foot-8 guard, is a Division II West Liberty recruit. She averaged 15 points a game as a junior.

“Both young ladies are well-seasoned in 6A basketball and have worked hard in the offseason to improve their respective games on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball,” Brozeski said. “We will lean on their past experiences in big games during the season and look forward to them embracing the challenge of being team leaders.”

She said the Knights will look to do what they arguably do best: dictate the tempo.

“We are still going to be a fast-paced team and really look to push the ball,” she said. “We have a lot of players who are ready to help contribute. I think we’re all really going to be playing for each other and making the best play for the team.”

Norwin must replace a richly talented backcourt tandem in Jayla Wehner (Marian) and Olivia Gribble (Marietta), as well as key contributors Jackie Caputo (Point Park) and Cassie Cole, who also graduated.

Junior 5-9 guard Brianna Zajicek will help to fill that void.

“Brianna has the unique combination of length and guard skills, which provides position flexibility based off of matchups,” Brozeski said. “We expect Brianna to continue to develop both the inside and perimeter skill set on both sides of the court and continue to be an energy player that provides pivotal sparks on otherwise 50-50 situations.”

Norwin allowed 41.4 points per game, a credit to intense, face-guarding defense and a deep bench. The Knights are known for always having a fresh five on the floor.

Players looking to provide those attributes again include 5-9 senior guard Carly Ellingsen and 5-8 sophomore guard-forward Savannah Schneck. They will add to a long and athletic lineup.

“Carly has dedicated a lot of time over the years and has patiently waited behind a strong class of guards,” Brozeski said. “Carly’s patience has paid off and she will be a contributor who brings not only perimeter shooting but intelligence and willingness to direct players into the correct positions.

“Savannah is one of the top pure athletes I have ever coached. She brings an intensity and physical playing style that enable her to be a productive rebounder and defender.”

Other players looking to help the depth factor are juniors Allyssa Laukus and Maggie Race.

Realignment and reclassification for some teams brought a rivalry together now that Penn-Trafford is playing in Class 6A. The Knights and Warriors will play twice during section play.

That will cut down on travel because both teams will have to make trips to Butler, North Allegheny, North Hills, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley and Shaler.

“Coach (John) Giannikas is a great coach who always has his team ready to play Norwin,” Brozeski said. “Our games are typically decided in the last few minutes. We are glad that the bus trip is closer than the rest of our section games, but they will be hard-fought games and will probably come down to the last minutes of the fourth quarter.”

Norwin girls basketball at a glance

Coach: Brian Brozeski

Last year’s record: 18-5 (13-1 Section 1-6A)

Returning starters: Mara Polczynski (Sr., G), Danielle Rosso (Sr., G), Brianna Zajicek (Jr., G/F)

Top newcomers: Carly Ellingsen (Sr., G), Savannah Schneck (So., G/F)

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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