Norwin girls ready to ‘come back even stronger’ for PIAA playoffs

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Monday, March 4, 2019 | 1:30 AM


Jayla Wehner called on a motivational quote to help erase a tough semifinal loss and fast-forward to what lies ahead for the Norwin girls basketball team.

“We feel like we aren’t done yet, and we believe that we haven’t played our best basketball yet,” the Norwin junior guard said. “Coming off of such a close loss like that, we feel like we need redemption. I like to think about this quote by Vince Lombardi: ‘It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.’

“I feel like after the loss we will come back even stronger.”

Norwin played a spirited WPIAL Class 6A semifinal against North Allegheny but came up a point short, 37-36. Momentum, though, can follow teams into the PIAA playoffs, even after a defeat.

While WPIAL title-winning teams often get saddled with the proverbial “hangover” in the state tournament, others can rekindle a new spark and begin to beat a path toward Hershey, the site of the PIAA finals.

While that is easier said than done, of course, Norwin (21-2) has its sights on such a run as it returns to the state bracket.

The WPIAL’s fourth-place team opens the PIAA tournament Friday night against District 6 champion Altoona (17-6) at 6:30 p.m. at Hollidaysburg High School.

The popular opinion at Norwin says the Knights are not ready to turn in uniforms. A talented, yet young Knights team that will lose just three seniors has a bright future, but remains focused on what remains of this season.

“We know that (North Allegheny) is one of the top teams in the state, and being able to play a game that goes down to the buzzer gives us confidence that we compete with any team in the state,” Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said. “The focus is improving our product and getting better. We will continue to self-scout and work on the areas that can make us the best version of us.”

Norwin nearly knocked off then-two-time-defending champion — and playoff rival — North Allegheny before falling, 37-36, in a game that saw the lead change sides three times in the last 40 seconds.

Norwin had a 13-game winning streak stopped in rather crushing fashion: The Tigers’ Katerina Balouris made the go-ahead layup with nine seconds to play, and then came up with a steal under the basket as Norwin inbounded with two seconds left at Fox Chapel.

North Allegheny went on to lose to top-seeded Peters Township, 43-40, in overtime in the championship.

The semifinal was physical and low-scoring, just how both teams liked it. Each possession was methodical as North Allegheny and Norwin grinded their gears and tried to force a breaking point.

“I think we played well together as a team against North Allegheny,” Norwin senior forward Emily Brozeski said. “Going into the state playoffs we are just focusing on staying together as a team and working to create for our teammates. We are a gritty team that is focused on rebounds and defense before we worry about our offense because our mentality is that defense wins games. I think our defense as a whole has really come a long way from the beginning of the season.”

While this particular Norwin group lacks state-playoff experience, the program does not.

Norwin mingled with the state’s best a few years ago during its run to a WPIAL Class AAAA championship repeat. The Knights made the PIAA semifinals in 2015 and the quarterfinals a season later.

But Norwin has been on the outside of the state postseason for the past two years.

Still, many coaches will argue that playoff basketball is playoff basketball. Each game can increase in difficulty from this point on. Preparation and execution must work hand-in-hand.

“We learned from the WPIAL playoffs how competitive and grinding the playoffs can be,” Brian Brozeski said. “No team is going to walk in the gym and run away with the game. Each game will be a game of runs such that you will need to maximize your opportunities and minimize your opponents.”

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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