Elizabeth Forward faces size disadvantage vs. Palmyra in state quarterfinals

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 1:26 a.m.

As Sam Kosanovich considered the notion of a long coaching career winding down, his Elizabeth Forward girls basketball team only hoped to keep putting a charge in it.

For now, a long season — and career — continued to grow with Elizabeth Forward's PIAA second-round playoff victory over Mt. Pleasant, sending Kosanovich and the Warriors to Bedford County on Saturday to play Palmyra in the Class AAA quarterfinals at Chestnut Ridge High School.

Both teams are attempting to win three more games to claim a state title.

“We're not overconfident. We're approaching it like a job,” said Kosanovich, 63, a Munhall native. “We've worked hard at practice, and we'll come to play and see where we stand when there's no time on the clock.”

Elizabeth Forward (22-4) earned a spot in the quarterfinals by beating short-handed Mt. Pleasant, 55-37, on Wednesday at Hempfield. The Vikings played without injured leading scorer Alexa Szelong.

It likely won't be a similar case with Palmyra (24-4), the third-place team out of District 3, which should be at full strength with the return of Bucknell recruit Carly Richardson from an ankle injury at the start of the state playoffs a week ago.

It isn't the biggest concern for Kosanovich, however.

“They are tall — as tall a team as we've faced all year,” he said.

Palmyra's lineup includes the 5-foot-11 Richardson, who scored 11 points in the Cougars' 69-57 second-round victory over District 1 Merion Mercy Academy on Wednesday in Reading. Three juniors — 5-11 Kristen Smoluk, 5-9 Katie McClellan and 5-8 Maria Tukis — paced Palmyra with 13 points apiece.

In all, four players on Palmyra's roster stand at least 5-10.

Elizabeth Forward will counter with a balanced scoring attack, led by 5-8 senior guard Kylie Owoc's 14.1 average. Junior point guard Abigail Sporio (13.5) and senior guard Alison Pastore (13.2), who scored a team-high 17 in the victory over Mt. Pleasant, head a list of five others averaging in double figures.

Kosanovich is hoping the presence of 6-foot senior Natalie Fekula (11.8 ppg.) can help to neutralize Palmyra's significant size.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Forward's pressure defense was too much for Mt. Pleasant, but Kosanovich said it will be a challenge to match that performance against Palmyra.

“They're a very good team and very well-coached,” he said. “They are very patient on offense, and they also like to press.”

After recovering from various health issues throughout the year, a rejuvenated Kosanovich has been a staple on the Elizabeth Forward sideline throughout the postseason. His quiet demeanor has been a calming effect as he inches closer to the completion of his third season at the school after succeeding former longtime coach John Hearn in 2011.

“He knows exactly what he's talking about all the time,” Sporio said. “You can see it. You understand it. He brings a college mentality to the team.”

Kosanovich coached the NAIA Division II Point Park women's team for five seasons from 2006-11. But he never came close to achieving the success — compiling a record of 53-71 — he has at Elizabeth Forward, where he has led the team to a combined record of 64-14 (.821).

“This has been the best three years of my time as a basketball coach,” said Kosanovich, who also has served as a men's assistant at Point Park, a boys coach at South Park High School and a boys assistant at Thomas Jefferson and West Allegheny high schools.

“Nothing compares to what we've done at EF,” he said. “The talent of the players and the commitment and support of the school administration from top to bottom has been unmatched. It's why we've been successful.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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