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Norwin lacrosse sees path to improvement

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For the Norwin Star
Norwin lacrosse midfielder Nicco Alessandro flips a pass across the field during the Knights' 12-5 season-opening loss on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at Baldwin.
Randy Jarosz | For the Norwin Star
Senior midfielder Joel Batiste rips a shot in Norwin's lacrosse season opener on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at Baldwin. Batiste is one of the returning players in an experienced Norwin offense that hopes to fuel a push toward this year's playoffs.

From a one-win season in 2012, Norwin's lacrosse team has a chance to make a big leap forward this year.

The Knights come into this season with elevated expectations, as a senior-led attack corps and a new section has Norwin entertaining thoughts of challenging for a postseason spot.

With the WPIAL's Division II breaking into three sections this year, Norwin will compete in Section 1 against Allderdice, Gateway, Greensburg Central Catholic, Indiana and Latrobe for one of three playoff spots. GCC and Indiana both were playoff teams last year, but that leaves at least one spot for a postseason newcomer, and the Knights hope to be it.

“It's nice that we're playing some new teams and some teams that we haven't played in a while,” Norwin coach Jeff Braid said. “Teams like Indiana, who started (its program) the same year we did, should be a good matchup, and it will be nice to play teams like Trinity, Gateway and Moon, who we feel we match up well against.”

A shorthanded Norwin unit fell in the teams opening game of the year, a 12-5 nonsection loss at Baldwin on March 27. The team was missing a handful of players who had already left for spring break, were on a school trip or taking part in other school activities, but even with those players missing, the Knights had the score tied, 2-2, at halftime.

“We were pretty thin, but we had it 2-2 at halftime,” Braid said. “In the second half, we just got tired from playing with so few players.”

When he has his full complement of players available, Braid expects his team to be very competitive, led by some experienced goal scorers.

Seniors Josh Ellwood, Brendon Masten and Tyler Liebdzinski all play on the attack for Norwin, while midfield seniors Joel Batiste and Adam Ponsonby and junior Nicco Alessandro give the Knights plenty of options near their opponents' goal. Alessandro, hailed by his coach for his two-way play, had a hat trick in the opening game against Baldwin.

“We have a senior attack that's very strong, and our middies can really contribute to some high offensive numbers this year,” Braid said.

“We have good dodgers who can move and shoot really well. In the past, we had maybe one or two guys that could really shoot, and others that could get around the defenders. This year, we have guys who can do both.”

Where the Knights will need to fill in from last year is on defense, but Braid has pieces to fill in the holes opened up by graduation.

Juniors Jesse Moonis, Antonio Alessandro, Adam Nafaa and senior Dan Merz all will handle defensive duties, and they will do so in front of a pair of senior goalies, Will Gooch and Dylan Keffer.

“Will was our JV goalie last year, and Dylan cam back after not playing last year, so we have two quality goalies that are both going to play this year,” Braid said. “We have weeks with three and even four games on the schedule, so both of them are going to play so we don't wear one of them out.”

Fitness will be a key part in getting through the congested schedule for Norwin, and finding players that are capable of filling roles on the team's second and third midfield lines is an early-season priority for Norwin.

The Knights will be tested early in their schedule, even after not playing a scheduled game against powerhouse North Allegheny because of weather. Norwin faces another Division I opponent, Fox Chapel, on the road this Friday, and the team also has nonsection contests during the year against Shaler, Seton-La Salle and Chartiers Valley, all playoff teams from 2012.

“Against teams like that, we can really sharpen our skills and get more quality depth for line two and line three,” Braid said. “Seeing that we can hang with them can help build our confidence.”

After the matchup with Fox Chapel, the Knights will go on the road Monday to face Canon-McMillan before a third straight road game on Wednesday, the team's section opener at Indiana.

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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