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Experience lifting Norwin lacrosse team to greater heights

Doug Gulasy | Norwin Star
Norwin senior midfielder Joel Batiste finds open space in the Knights' game against Quaker Valley Monday, April 29, 2013, at Norwin High School. The Knights lost, 7-6.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Norwin lacrosse program is still growing, and the Knights are experiencing their best season yet.

Led by a group of experienced seniors, the Knights (4-8) have already recorded the most victories in program history and are battling Latrobe for the third and final playoff spot in Division 2, Section 1.

Norwin and Latrobe played Wednesday night, in a game that ended past the deadline for this edition.

“This year, all the seniors and juniors — all the upperclassmen — we've just been playing and practicing our butts off,” said senior Will Gooch, one of five captains on the roster. “Coach (Jeff Braid) is really digging in and helping us work on our fundamentals, getting us back to the basics and keeping our heads in the game.”

The Knights recorded just one victory in 2012, but the team moved to a new section with Allderdice, Gateway, Greensburg Central Catholic, Indiana and Latrobe this season.

Norwin is competing closely with its opponents this season. The Knights played three overtime games last week, dropping two of them — including a 12-11 decision to section foe Greensburg Central Catholic last Thursday night.

The Knights fell again Monday night, losing, 7-6, in a nonsection match against Quaker Valley..

Senior midfielder Adam Ponsonby scored with 34.8 seconds left to cut the Quaker Valley lead to one goal, but the Knights couldn't tally the equalizer.

Josh Ellwood and Brendon Masten scored two goals in the game for Norwin, and Nico Alessandro added the Knights' other goal in the loss.

“I think we're playing excellent,” Masten said. “Honestly, (Quaker Valley is) one of the best teams in our division, and we played to their level — if not better.

“There were a few bad calls, a few dumb penalties, but I think we played excellent and honestly we can hang with anybody in our division.”

The Knights are led by an experienced offensive group, including senior attackers Masten, Ellwood and Tyler Liebdzinski and senior midfielders Ponsonby and Joel Batiste, who became Norwin's all-time leading scorer earlier this season.

“We really have a lot of players who have been around for a while,” Braid said. “We have four seniors who have been playing since they were in seventh grade. That really makes a difference, having players who started at a younger age rather than picking it up their freshman or sophomore year.

“We're really able to capitalize on that this year with that core group of kids, focusing on an up-tempo offense and trying to score in transition.”

The experience isn't limited to offense, as seniors Gooch and Dylan Keffer split time in goal.

“It's been a fun year, and I think we just need to keep going up,” Keffer said. “Me and him have been playing solid, and we just need to keep going.”

The Norwin lacrosse program is continuing to grow. Braid said 45 players tried out for the team this year, and 40 made it in some capacity.

The numbers could get even larger next year, as Braid expects a large freshman class.

“(The younger levels are) continuing to replace the players who are leaving with quality lacrosse players,” Braid said. “I think we're on the way.”

With several juniors ready to step up in their stead, the seniors said they see a bright future for Norwin lacrosse.

First, however, they'd like to cap the program's best season yet with a postseason appearance. Wednesday's game could go a long way toward determining the final postseason team from the section.

“(Wednesday) is definitely the biggest game we'll ever play together,” Masten said. “We want to make the playoffs as our senior class. I think it would be great to end on that and just go as far as we could.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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