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Norton girls basketball team in control of its own destiny

12/27/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

NORTON — Through Dec. 20, the Norton High School girls basketball team was out to a 7-2 record overall and a 5-0 mark in league play. Head coach Brian Miller said the strong start has his team in a great position.

“We control our own destiny in the league,” he said. “But I always prime our team to be prepared for the tournament run. We have a lot of work ahead of us as I am still looking for consistency and depth in our rotation. We need our young players to be better players to go far. And I need our seniors to be leaders on the court, in the locker room and in the community.”

The seniors this year (with comments on each by the coach) are:

• Cara Cook (5-foot-9): “She is a returning all-Portage Trail Conference [PTC], all-district and state-level player. She can score from anywhere on the floor and she is a great passer.”

• Jaclyn Fortner (5-foot-9): “Like Cara, she can score multiple ways, and she is a tough girl. She plays physical and is not afraid to guard anyone on the floor. She is All-PTC and district.”

• Rachel Destefano (5-foot-8): “Rachel returns after missing last year with an ACL tear. It will take her time to get acclimated to playing again, but she is a great defender and she has excellent quickness and anticipates well on defense. She will really come on in January.”

• Carolyn Ivy (5-foot-8): “She is athletic and does a lot of little things for us. She is a very upbeat person and provides us hard work and speed on the floor. She has worked hard to get major minutes this year.”

According to Miller, two key returning players for the team are Brooke Robinson and Sadie Blackert.

“Junior Brooke Robinson handles the ball for us, and she is really explosive scoring. She is having a great year for us and gives us that extra three-point shooter that teams cannot guard, plus she runs the team very well,” the coach said. “Sadie Blackert is probably our best athlete. She can run the floor and defend and she has a lot of ability. As she gets into the flow of basketball, she will give us more scoring and rebounding.”

Miller said this year’s squad returned four players who played major minutes last season.

“We have good guard play and the return of four seniors that have won a lot of games the past three years. Cara and Jaclyn lead us with scoring and ball handling from the wing positions. Both can play the point and the forward spots, so their versatility allows us to be very flexible in our offense,” he said. “Sadie and Brooke also played major minutes, until Brooke suffered a shin injury that cost her the last half of the season.”

Last season, Norton finished 18-5 overall.

“We finished second in league again to Ravenna after losing to them by one at home,” he said. “We lost in districts to [Archbishop] Hoban by two, which was a shame, since the girls worked hard to be in the position to win the game, but we learn from experiences in life and move forward to learn again.”

Miller said the team lost four seniors to graduation, but noted that being healthy is a major plus this season.

“The biggest improvement for us is getting Nina Dzombic, Dayna Rabatin, Rachel DeStefano and Brooke Robinson back from injuries last season,” he said. “Sophomore 6-foot post player Nina Dzombic gives us size. She is coming back from the ACL tear last year, so it will take her time to adjust, but she is doing very well for us and she will also come on fast in January. I also have 5-foot-8 Dayna Rabatin coming back from an ACL tear, and she is starting to be more aggressive and gives us another strong girl that is also athletic.”

Two young players Miller said the team is counting on are sophomores Hannah Bergstrom and Brooke Tokes.

“I am relying heavily on them for some depth and the future of the program,” he said. “Both are talented, but still need to learn to play at the varsity level.”

Miller said the team’s younger players are gaining experience as the season progresses.

“We are still learning how to handle the mental pressure of winning. The girls know everyone we play will give us their best game, and that can be tiring mentally,” the coach said. “We are mostly inexperienced, and we will struggle at times with continuity on the court. We are hanging tough right now despite these issues, and we will continue to work on being together on the court.”

This is Miller’s 10th year as head coach at Norton.

“My assistants are: Tracy Fortner, who also coaches the ninth-grade team and runs our youth program; Randy Forst, who helps at all levels; and Jackie Mohseninia, who coaches the JV [junior varsity] team and also helps with freshmen,” he said. “Paul Howe handles our eighth-grade team and Jeff McNab runs the seventh-grade team.”

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