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Posted 2.0 weeks ago @ 7:34AM

Eagles Basketball Soars into PAC Playoffs

By Tim Raub

February 7, 2024

West Norriton -  In his classic novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” Charles Dickens opened by stating that “[i]t was the worst of times, it was the best of times.”

Since entering the Pioneer Athletic Conference for the 2016-17 season, that line could have summed up the differences between the Norristown boys and girls basketball teams.

While the Eagles boys program has routinely been among the top programs in the Liberty Division — and have been no stranger to postseason play in the PAC Final 6, the District 1 tournament and the PIAA Class AAAAAA state tournament, the same could not be said for the Norristown girls program, which has struggled in recent years (the Lady Eagles’ last winning season was a playoff qualifying campaign during the 2015-16 season).

Oh, how things have changed in the matter of one season though, especially for the girls basketball program.

Standing at 11-11 overall, and currently knocking on the door of a District 1 playoff tournament berth, the Lady Eagles are in the midst of a history making season have qualified for their first-ever PAC Final 6 tournament as the No. 6 seed, and travel to Spring-Ford Thursday where they fill face the third-seeded Rams.

The boys program is in a similar run this season, entering the postseason as the PAC’s No. 6 seed, and face a familiar foe in third-seeded Pottstown tonight at Perkiomen Valley, a team they faced in their regular-season finale just a week ago.

Senior guard/forward Briana Minick attributes the change of fortune to the development of a strong culture within the program this season, as well as a commitment from the team to a more structured and goal-oriented offseason program.

“Coming into the season, we wanted to make the playoffs,” Minick said. “We are playing more like a team, and we just want to be the best we can be.

Minick believes the new culture and structured approach within the program has been key to the success of the girls’ program, and has led to the team being much more of a family.  That, says, has resulted in much more chemistry on the court.

Fellow senior guard Azjiona Golston agrees.  In fact, she said, it was a little early season turmoil that gave the entire team pause and a realization that any cracks in the team culture would only lead to disappointment and a failure to reach the program’s goal of any possibility of a chance at the postseason.

“I knew I needed to become a leader [after the early season setback],” she said. “And, as a team, we needed to get better and trust our teammates.  [After the setback,] we realized that were actually closer [as a team] than we thought we were, and needed to be even closer.”

Immediately, the team instituted more team bonding and started hanging out together much more, even going to college basketball games together as part of the team building activities.

Golston used her new-found motivation and commitment to the team not only to be a better leader in the way in which she carried herself off the court, but has been just as effective on the court, as well.  Her 17.9 points per game average is second-best in the PAC, while Minick’s 10.1 points per game average is good enough for 15th.

And, no matter how the rest of the season goes for the Eagles girls, both Golston and Minick want to make sure that their legacy is passed on to the younger players in the program for years to come.

“I want to be remembered as a leader, and I just want to leave behind the idea that we have what it takes to [be successful] at Norristown, and prove to all girls at Norristown that we can get there,” Golston said.

“I want to be remembered as someone who had a positive impact on the program,” Minick said.

For the boys program, it’s been business as usual.  

Reaching the PAC postseason in each of the last three seasons — Norristown did not participate during the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic — reaching the state round Class AAAAA playoffs in 2022, and qualifying for the District One playoffs in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022, the Eagles know what it takes to make a strong run in playoff play.

Coming off a rare down season last year — the team suffered its only losing record at 10-13 that year — Norristown has bounced back nicely at 12-10 this season.  

Senior Myon Kirlew is sixth in the PAC with a 17.2 points per game average, while fellow senior Jayden Byrd is eighth in the league, averaging 16.6 points per game. Kevin Bonds, another senior leader on the team this season is not far behind at 9.3 points per game.

Kirlew believes that a change in leadership from a coaching standpoint — head coach Chris Podsobinski is in his first season at the helm this season — has played a huge role in getting the program back to a winning record.

Byrd agrees, and says that the culture that Podsobinski has brought to the program has had an immediate effect on the outcome of the season.

“We are more of a team this season,” Byrd said.  “We are all friends, and have played together before.”

Byrd also attributes Podsobinski’s introduction of game film into the program for the jump in success on the court.

“We are able to see our mistakes now and fix them later on,” he said, adding that the ability to watch scout film on opponents has had the team better prepared going into each game.

The Eagles boys are also sitting just outside of a district playoff berth and need a little help to gain entry to the district playoffs this season.  Pennwood, a team Norristown beat 66-57 earlier in the season, sits 25th in the District 1 power rankings, while Springfield (Delco) is 24th, just over 1/10th of a point over the Eagles.  The district takes the top 24 teams for the postseason tournament.

The Eagles will need a little help over the final week of regular season play to gain entry this year, so they want to make the most of their opportunity in the PAC tournament to ensure they are playing as long as they can this season.

We are trying to win a championship this year,” Bonds said. “We may not make districts, so we have to try to do it [in the PAC tournament.]”

Kirlew also wants to make sure that his fingerprints have been left on the boys program for years to come and said that he would like to be remembered as “an inspired, hard-working young man in everything” that he did, while Bonds wants to be remembered as a leader and the “energy man” of the program. 

No matter how the PAC playoffs turn out for either program, the history made this season has been nothing short of inspiring at Norristown.  

For the first time in school history, both the boys and girls basketball programs are playing in the postseason, and with the dedication to building team culture so strong for both of the programs, the hope in Norristown is that this season is just the start of things to come. 

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