Senior leaders use past experiences to help Norwin girls prepare for PIAA quarterfinal matchup

Thursday, March 14, 2019 | 8:16 PM

When Emily Brozeski and Jessica Kolesar were freshmen, they were part of Norwin’s varsity scout team. They helped get the WPIAL-champion Knights ready for intense, later-round playoff games.

“They would want us to come in and (simulate) speed and fly around,” Brozeski said. “We learned a lot from that team.”

Now seniors, the girls are starters for a team that sits a win away from the PIAA Final Four.

Norwin (22-3) plays WPIAL champion Peters Township (27-0) at 8 p.m. Friday at Keystone Oaks in the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals.

As with most of their victories this season, the senior group — as small and vital a band as it is — will need to make an impact for the Knights to survive and advance.

That includes Abby Best, another key starter who missed two years with a knee injury before returning to make an impact.

All three seniors have scored in double figures this season for a team that relies on balanced offense, a trapping defense and rich depth. Their athleticism propelled the Knights to the WPIAL semifinals and an extended run in the state tournament.

Now, they want to leave their own legacy with a perennial power.

“We saw how (the 2016 team) did things,” Kolesar said. “They set the standard for us.”

Norwin won back-to-back WPIAL titles in 2015 and ‘16 and made the PIAA semifinals in ‘15. But those teams had basketball-only girls, as do many playoff teams at this time of year.

The unique thing about Brozeski and Kolesar, though, is that basketball is their secondary sport. Both are going to Division I schools for track and field — Brozeski to Duquesne (high jump, hurdles, heptathlon), and Kolesar to Cornell (long jump, triple jump, sprints).

“You can see how athletic they are,” Best said of her classmates. “I see it every time they play. We’re a close group, and we all support each other.”

Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said Kolesar and Emily Brozeski, his niece, have a relentless quality on the court.

“Jess has a combination of speed and athleticism I haven’t seen before at Norwin,” the coach said. “She is really fast but she also can comprehend situations and be a leader for us. As for Em, it’s been special having a chance to have that time with some family. I love how they compete. And they are quick to help each other, and the other girls.”

Best, coach Brozeski said, has played an integral role in the Knights’ run. That after a time when it looked like she could not.

“After all she has been through, it’s great to see her play like this,” he said. “And she is still getting better.”

Perhaps ironically, it was in a nonsection game two years ago when Best, sidelined and wearing a bulky knee brace, was allowed to take the court on the Indians’ senior night and score an uncontested basket.

Another current Norwin senior, team manager Jess Welch-Mussori, knows that feeling. Welch-Mussori was born with a progressive disorder that causes vision problems and much of what she does depends on sound. She also battles Stage 3 kidney disease but continues to defy the odds.

She was allowed to score the game’s opening basket in the Section 1 finale against visiting Fox Chapel.

“Just seeing how much she loves the sport is so great,” Kolesar said. “She is such a important part of our team.”

Norwin in 2016 entered the PIAA quarterfinals with a 27-0 record, just like Peters Township, but lost to North Allegheny.

Norwin is hoping its conditioning can play a role in the outcome.

“We want to get into their legs,” Emily Brozeski said. “Controlled chaos.”

Brian Brozeski hopes his seniors lead, the rest of the team follows and the team’s clone-like rotation keeps the season going. Norwin is the ultimate guard-oriented team.

“We want our guards to have forward skill sets, and our forwards to have guard skill sets,” he said. “We have to be fluid and adjust. It doesn’t’ matter if we win 22-21 or 82-81, as long as we have one more point than them. It will be a battle and fun to watch. You’ll see the best from both teams.”

And besides, “I am not ready for track just yet,” Emily Brozeski said. “We’re not ready for basketball to end.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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