Norwin girls overwhelm opponents with depth, substitutions

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Monday, March 11, 2019 | 8:39 PM


Usually by state playoff time, basketball teams have pared their rotations down to a workable number, maybe six or seven players.

They go with what got them there and don’t mess with chemistry. Championships have been won with minimal depth.

Then there is this year’s Norwin girls team.

As the regular season has blended into the WPIAL postseason and now, PIAA playoff time, the Knights’ bench has expanded.

“Gradually, we’ve been able to work more girls in as they become more confident with our schemes,” Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said. “We like to say the more you know how to do, the longer you can stay in the game.”

A bunch of girls apparently know a whole lot as the Knights (22-2) get set to face District 11 champion Northampton (25-4) in the PIAA Class 6A second round at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg.

Brozeski is playing up to nine girls and said he could go beyond that number.

“This is the deepest team we have ever had,” he said. “Our girls have created this in our program. It’s a challenge to just have (the same) five out there. It’s team vs. team in practice, and we have some battles. It’s very competitive.”

Nine girls not only played but also scored in a 62-45 first-round win over Altoona on Friday at Hollidaysburg.

The Knights made 12 3-pointers and subbed frequently, four new girls continually entering the game in hockey line-change fashion.

“It gives us fresh legs,” said senior guard Abby Best, who had 10 rebounds against Altoona. “You come in strong. It’s been a process from the beginning (of the season). We knew we could be an elite team. We’re starting to get to that eliteness.”

Norwin won WPIAL Class AAAA titles in 2015 and ’16 but did not stretch the bench must past seven girls.

Brozeski said he began rotating nine girls this season after the Knights played North Allegheny at home. Both of Norwin’s losses are to the Tigers, the second coming in the WPIAL semifinals 37-36.

The Knights split with the WPIAL runners-up in section play.

Norwin’s starters are Best, juniors Jayla Wehner and Olivia Gribble, and seniors Emily Brozeski and Jessica Kolesar.

But depth comes in waves with junior Cassie Cole, sophomores Mara Polczynski and Danielle Rosso and freshman Brianna Zajicek checking in.

The lineup is a veritable mix-and-match after the opening tip.

Depth is a great weapon to have, a luxury, in theory. But working in so many reserves and trying to fit different lineups only can be honed with repetition.

“We have a lot of good girls,” Cole said. “Everyone comes in and plays as hard as they can. We can all bring something. I come in when we change our defense up. It would be tough to prepare to play against us.”

That the rotating system works is only one reason to keep the turnstiles moving. Brozeski knows there is time to experiment with lineups during the regular season, but misfiring on substitutions in the playoffs could be disastrous.

“There is no rewind (in the playoffs),” Brozeski said. “There is no whoopsy button.”

Against Altoona, for instance, several players were hitting shots from the perimeter and found the proverbial “hot hand.”

Players continued to check in at the scorer’s table, though.

Norwin’s approach starts with defense and non-stop pressure, which means every player who logs minutes needs to move. The word stagnant was struck from the team’s vocabulary, joining others such as selfish and slow.

Brozeski subs according to situations and feel. Each girl is expected to contribute in some way when they’re in the game — and at full speed.

“You give your 110-percent best for your two-minute stretch,” Gribble said. “We’re big on the conditioning side. There aren’t many teams as conditioned as us.”

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

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