Both 17-0, Norwin girls are No. 1 in the state while Latrobe boys seek respect
The Norwin girls basketball team was largely an unknown quantity to most outsiders at the start of last season.
“We weren't really on the radar as one of the top teams,” coach Brian Brozeski said.
The Knights were first across the finish line, alone and seen by all as WPIAL Class AAAA champions.
Latrobe boys coach Brad Wetzel can relate to part of that scenario. The Wildcats have raced to a 17-0 start this season. But are they being overlooked?
“I think there's some validity to that,” Wetzel said.
The Norwin girls also are unbeaten at 17-0. Both teams top the Tribune-Review Class AAAA rankings. Each has nearly identical credentials but not equal measures of respect.
Norwin began the season as a marked team. The bulls-eye has expanded.
“We've just got to expect we're gonna get everyone's best effort,” Brozeski said.
Latrobe is approaching that point. In the PIAA rankings by PennLive.com, based in Harrisburg, Norwin is No. 1. Latrobe has yet to appear in the Top 10.
“We were not well-known on the other side of the mountain, in the eastern part of the state,” Wetzel said. “They're probably still a little bit skeptical.”
Past performance, the more recent the better, helps enrich reputations. Norwin was a WPIAL champ last season. Latrobe's last WPIAL title came in 1985. Generally, girls teams from Western Pennsylvania lately have been more successful than boys teams at the state tournament.
“Even here in the WPIAL, leaving the borders of Allegheny County leaves some people suspicious (Latrobe is in Westmoreland County),” Wetzel said. “I think it's up to us to kind of change that mentality and just perform as well as we can and go as far as we can until people give us the respect that's due.”
Norwin already has achieved that, due in large part to senior Alayna Gribble, a 6-foot guard-forward headed to Pitt who averages 19.4 points.
“On the offensive side, she can do it all,” Brozeski said. “Inside, outside, penetrate, handle the ball, shoot, whatever you want to see. But where she's starting to grow is on the defensive side of the ball. She's really been a gem in all facets of the game.”
One of four senior starters, Gribble has plenty of help.
“The thing that makes our team a good, solid team is we have a lot of contributors across the board,” Brozeski said.
So does Latrobe, which plays fast and scores in bunches. The Wildcats are paced by the stellar guard trio of Austin Butler, Jake Biss and Sean Graytok. The rest of the squad knows their roles and what Wetzel expects.
“These guys are invested in the program,” Wetzel said. “They absolutely have invested their time and energy into this beyond what the average player is doing.”
Making a postseason run will require “staying with the mentality that got us here,” Wetzel said. “That's one game at a time. The battle cry is, let's play together for as many games as we possibly can.”
For Norwin, the formula is equally as simple.
“It's gonna be the same thing we've tried to carry on forever,” said Brozeski, in his fourth season as head coach. “And that's gonna be, never be satisfied. Always approach every practice and every minute with the fact that you have to get better.
“It's not gonna be status quo from here on out. Everyone's getting better.”