Two days to prepare allows for enough time to watch video, come up with a game plan and fine-tune a few details.
Yet the difference between winning and losing between the Peters Township and Norwin girls basketball teams in tonight’s (8 p.m.) PIAA Class 6A quarterfinal at Keystone Oaks High School could come down to something you can’t teach.
Height and hustle.
The two teams are not only playing for a spot in the semifinals but to be the last remaining team from the western side of the state. The winner advances to play either Abington or Upper Dublin, both teams from District 1, in the Monday’s semifinals. The top of the bracket features three more teams from District 1 – Garnet Valley, Council Rock North and Neshaminy – and Cardinal O’Hara out of District 12.
Outside of being from District 7 (WPIAL), Peters Township and Norwin don’t have much else in common.
Peters Township (27-0) has only one player in its starting five who is shorter than 5-11. Norwin’s tallest starter, Abigail Best, is 5-9.
The post players for the Indians, Journey Thompson and Mackenzie Lehman, have caused problems for teams during their PIAA playoff run. In wins over Harrisburg and Bethel Park, Thompson scored a combined 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, while Lehman had 16 points and 20 rebounds. Both are shooting better than 50 percent from the field this season.
“We have to rebound,” said Peters Township coach Bert Kendall. “They are small, but when you play a team team that is smaller they sometimes are good at rebounding because they have to compete. They are strong at rebounding the ball. We can’t just think that we are taller and hang around the rim. Having a height advantage is just that, an advantage.”
Kendall said the Indians’ length and experience at the guard position with Makenna Marisa and Isabella Mills will help with the defensive pressure the Knights like to employ, which could make it difficult for the post players to get the basketball because of traps and double teams.
It’s not Norwin’s size in stature but size in substitutions that have given opponents fits. The Knights (23-2), whose two losses were against North Allegheny, rotate nine players regularly and are comfortable if they have to exceed that number. Fresh legs have helped Norwin run past Altoona in the first round of the state tournament, 62-45, and Northampton in the second round, 68-58.
The Knights’ starters are Emily Brozeski, Jessica Kolesar, Jayla Wehner, Olivia Gribble and Best. Junior Cassie Cole, sophomores Mara Polczynski and Danielle Rosso and freshman Brianna Zajicek all check in off the bench.
Peters Township has remained undefeated by typically using no more than six players, sometimes sticking with its starting five through an entire game if foul trouble isn’t an issue. If the Indians win, it will be their 18th victory over a team that qualified for the WPIAL playoffs and first state semifinal appearance since 1994.
“We pride ourselves on being in shape,” Kendall said. “We like to run. To us, four eight-minute quarters, we can do that. We aren’t worried about keeping up if the pace is quick. We can go to the bench if need be. They are comfortable playing the whole game and aren’t even winded when the game is over.
It’s a good feeling to still be playing. Can we win the next round? I have no idea but I’m confident in our kids and the way they are playing.”