Playoff losses motivate deep, talented Norwin girls team

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Thursday, November 28, 2019 | 5:03 PM


Jayla Wehner still can see the ball going through the rim — in slow motion, to haunt her dreams even more.

“I see it when I go to bed at night,” said Wehner, a senior guard at Norwin who is referring to a layup by North Allegheny’s Katerina Balouris in last year’s WPIAL Class 6A semifinal at Fox Chapel.

Balouris made the go-ahead layup with about 9 seconds to go, then came up with a steal under the basket with 2 seconds left to lift the Tigers to a 37-36 victory and a spot in the WPIAL championship.

Norwin went on to reach the PIAA quarterfinals but ran out of gas against WPIAL champion Peters Township, which swept through the postseason and finished 30-0.

The torment of that WPIAL defeat lingers for Norwin as a new season beckons.

“The one-point loss to NA, our big rivals, got us down a little,” Wehner said. “The big loss to Peters … we know we are much better than that. I think coming back off that, we have a lot to prove this year.”

Said 5-foot-8 senior Olivia Gribble, the other half of one of the WPIAL’s top guard tandems: “Making it to the playoffs and not being able to have that chance at the championship, that’s one of the most motivating factors.

“That’s our drive. We want to make it deep in the playoffs and be able to play our best basketball at the end of the year. It’s our time to shine.”

Norwin went 23-3 and had just one Section 1 loss — to North Allegheny. The Knights allowed only 39.1 points a game.

A streaky outside shooter, Gribble led Norwin with 13 points per game and made 85 3-pointers last season. She is a Divison III Marietta commit.

The 5-5 Wehner (7.7 ppg, 4.6 assists) is headed to NAIA Marian in Indianapolis.

Lady Knights coach Brian Brozeski knows what he is getting with Wehner and Gribble, proven players who also have played on the big stage in AAU competition.

“The thing about great players is they find a way to make themselves better, and that’s what you see with Jay and Liv,” Brozeski said. “They are first-hand recognition of what hard work looks like.”

Wehner said she and her fellow seniors expect nothing but a lengthy playoff run.

“Me and Liv will try to carry the team on our shoulders and do anything we can to get us (deep in the playoffs),” Wehner said. “If we don’t make (the finals), we’ll let a lot of people down.”

While Wehner and Gribble are very good, they can’t do it themselves.

“That’s the part we have to find out: Who is the supporting case going to be?” Brozeski said. “That’s the fun part, figuring that out and waiting for that plan to unveil itself.”

Brozeski likes to substitute generously, sometimes sending in a fresh five as early as the first quarter. Look for the guard-oriented Knights to hit the horn quite a bit again.

“I could give you like nine names,” Brozeski said about his rotation.

Senior 5-10 forward Cassie Cole should provide stability around the basket after playing quite a bit as a junior (25 games).

Another senior, 5-10 forward Jackie Caputo, will join her. Caputo will play at Point Park. She saw time in 13 games last year.

Senior Maggie Edwards, who Brozeski said is his best scout player because she often tried to emulate the opponent’s top performer, should be another key contributor.

“She is such a great kid and has earned her time,” Brozeski said. “She is the definition of a team player.”

Juniors expected to contribute include guards Mara Polczynski, Danielle Rosso and 5-10 forward MacKenzie Yaniga.

Sophomore Alyssa Laukus, another player listed at 5-10, has shown potential to shoot the 3.

“A key part of our team last year was our bench,” Wehner said. “We have a lot of those players coming back to filter in, so I think we’ll have big depth again.”

Brozeski won’t put a number on his team as far as rankings go, but he thinks the Knights can be part of the conversation in Class 6A.

“In 6A, you can put teams in different spots,” Brozeski said. “But the top five in the preseason probably won’t be the top five at the end of the year.”

The Knights are seeking their 18th straight WPIAL playoff appearance. The program has reached at least the quarterfinals every year since 2013-14 and won WPIAL championships in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

“The way that we motivate ourselves is that we want to make this a season to be proud of,” Brozeski said. “We motivate ourselves by pushing one another at practices. We understand if we buy into making each other better, the season goals will take care of themselves at the end.”

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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