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Young girls stepping up on Norton basketball team

1/30/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

NORTON — According to Norton High School girls basketball head coach Brian Miller, a few key injuries contributed to a slower than expected start for the team. However, he said, his younger players have been stepping up to fill the void, and the team is ready to make a postseason run.

“We’ve lost a couple of girls (juniors Nina Dzombic and Brook Tokes) to season-ending injuries, and that really hurt us to start the year,” he said. “We also lost freshman Jimi Howell, and I just recently got her back about two games ago. She was my next post player after Nina, so when we lost those two, we lost all our size. So we’ve been playing players with a lot of inexperience this year. I only had two girls back with any experience, and other girls are being thrown into situations that they wouldn’t have been without the injuries that we’ve had.”

One of those returning players is senior Brooke Robinson, who Miller called “one of the best players in Northeast Ohio, without a doubt.”

“She’s been phenomenal,” the coach said. “She plays point, and in the past, she has had great players around her and didn’t have to score much. This year, I have burdened her with scoring more and she’s averaging about 14.5 points per game — to go along with 5.5 assists, 5.5 steals and close to five rebounds per game. She’s also my best shooter from the outside. She pretty much leads us in every category you can think of offensively, and the greatest part about her is that she doesn’t turn the ball over. She has been impressive all year. Without her, we might be 2-14 right now.”

Miller said the other player with previous experience is senior Sadie Blackert.

“Sadie is a defensive-minded girl who will guard anybody from the point guard to the post,” he said. “She’s a physical player, and she’s one of my biggest players at 5-foot-9. Offensively, she doesn’t look to score a whole lot. She looks to do the little things and she does them very well.”

Other notable upperclassmen for the team this year, Miller said, are senior Dayna Rabatin and junior Hannah Bergstrom.

“Dayna is doing a great job in really her first year as a full-time varsity player. She’s a tough-minded girl and a great student,” the coach said. “Hannah is a 5-foot-8 shooting guard, and she shoots the most for us. You have to have a girl who is willing to take tough shots, and she’s not afraid to do that. She’s really improved a lot this year, and we look forward to her having a great tournament run.”

Miller said a number of the team’s younger players have stepped up to play key roles this season.

“We play some young girls, such as sophomore Alyssa Murawska, quite a bit — she’s a starter — as well as two freshman girls that play extensive minutes (Howell and Faith Daniel),” the coach said. “Daniel provides a tremendous amount of defense for us and Alyssa’s done a great job rebounding for us. And another girl we use off the bench is junior Paige Szittai, who provides with a little bit of three-point shooting and ball handling. She fills her role pretty well.”

Getting Howell back is important for the team going forward, Miller said.

“We’re in a pretty good position now with Jimi being back. She’s a great rebounder and is certainly going to help us in the tournament with her size,” he said. “That will give us an opportunity to maybe get into the districts now that we’re getting a little bit healthy. Maybe we will be able to bring back another district championship to Norton.”

Through Jan. 28, the team was 9-7 overall and 4-4 in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division.

“Probably the biggest enjoyment I’ve had is taking a group of girls that no one expected to do much this year and watching them battle hard,” Miller said. “We’ve lost some games in the end that we would normally have won in the past, but they’re learning from them. My goal every year is to get back to regionals, and I think we are in a position to do that. We’re going to have a pretty good run here at the end of the year.”

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