Spending most of her time in the low post, Addison Orzel has been hit in the nose “a lot.”
There was something different, however, after the elbow in the face in a game against GAR Jan. 12.
As Orzel wandered around in what she now describes as a “haze” and a “dream-like state,” her teammates noticed. When she was unable to concentrate and follow routine on-court communications, they alerted coach Chad Lojewski that something was wrong with Orzel.
When she was checked on the sideline and told by a trainer that she might have a concussion, Orzel had no idea the disruption her senior basketball season – and more importantly, life’s simple routines – was about to face.
“I was like, ‘it’s totally fine’,” said Orzel, who thought, at worst, she would have to sit out the next day’s game against last-place MMI Prep. “I just got hit a little harder than normal. I just have a little headache.”
That “little” headache became a constant headache that stayed with Orzel for weeks. The haze came and went. Sensitivity to sound and light became part of the equation.
The combination of symptoms lingered to the point where Orzel missed eight of the next nine games and did not feel well after trying to play for the first time in the Tigue-Denisco Cup Game with rival Pittston Area 17 days later.
Lojewski praises Orzel for her efforts to be a team leader and a positive influence from the sideline, but the Lady Warriors just were not the same without their veteran 5-foot-11 center.
Orzel went out with the Lady Warriors 10 games into a school-record, 11-0 start.
They were just 3-5 when she was gone.
Then, when Orzel returned to part-time duty in a Feb. 8 game at Berwick, the once-promising season seemed to fall apart altogether.
The Lady Warriors were demolished, 68-20, by a team behind them in the District 2 Class 4A playoff standings and that had been behind them for most of the season in Division 2 of the Wyoming Valley Conference.
As Orzel was trying to get more comfortable on the court again, Wyoming Area suddenly had a lot of on-court issues to fix.
The Lady Warriors were running out of time and their only two remaining regular-season games were against the WVC’s best two teams.
Lojewski saw much more fight in his team as it cut a 19-point halftime deficit to 12 Monday before falling to Holy Redeemer, 61-35.
As they went through Senior Night ceremonies Wednesday, the Lady Warriors were a team on a five-game losing streak in which they had been outscored by 107 points.
The opponent, Nanticoke, had won 19 of its last 20 games and it needed just one more victory for its latest WVC Division 2 title. Even through meetings on the youth level, Orzel and fellow captain Sarah Holweg had never been able to beat a team from Nanticoke.
None of that mattered.
The Lady Warriors – and Orzel – were back.
When what was left of their season could have simply fallen apart, the Lady Warriors instead stuck together. They accepted responsibility for losing the spark without tearing each other apart in assigning blame.
“After losing by that many points, it kind of set off a trigger with us,” Holweg said. “It was like, ‘all right, we’ve got to get back on track; we’ve got to do this and the only way we can do it is if we do it together.”
With captains Orzel and Holweg leading the way, the Lady Warriors went back to work in salvaging what they could.
The recommitment and intensity Lojewski had seen in practice and in the comeback attempt against Holy Redeemer were there from the opening tip as Wyoming Area raced to an improbable, 17-2 lead in the first quarter.
The confidence, that so easily could have been shaken, never wavered.
A Nanticoke team trying to defend its title predictably fought back hard. The Trojanettes climbed within a single point four times and a single score 14 times total over the final three quarters.
Wyoming Area never let Nanticoke catch up.
After the Trojanettes pulled within a basket for the final time, it was Orzel who scored the last two baskets in the final 30 seconds of a 59-53 upset.
Whether the Senior Night effort represents a last hurrah for a team led by four-year players Holweg and Orzel, who have led the way as the Lady Warriors more than doubled the wins produced by the program before their arrival, or sets up a chance for one more shining moment in the playoffs that start this week, remains to be seen.
But after Wednesday night’s game, the Lady Warriors and Orzel look much more like the unbeaten team they were when she took just another elbow in the face.
At the low point of her injury battle, Orzel spent three days removed from the phone, computer and television. She spent time, often alone, in a dark room. Holweg, a long-time friend and a basketball teammate since they were 4 years old, joined her.
“I quite literally just sat alone in a dark room and I slept a lot,” Orzel said. “Sarah came to my house two days after it happened. She brought me ice cream sandwiches and just sat with me because I was so bored and I couldn’t do anything.”
Exactly a month later, a friend’s off-court understanding translated back to the on-court awareness of two long-time teammates whose games work so well together.
“She’s like my sidekick on the floor,” said Holweg, who has spent much of the last two seasons trying to solve defensive game plans designed specifically to stop her long-range shooting and ball-handling abilities.
With a win they had long pursued on the line, Holweg, who had led the Lady Warriors to that point, passed the baton – and the ball – to Orzel.
Orzel scored her team’s final eight points and made its last five baskets. She made every shot she took in the fourth quarter, the first two made easy by the way Holweg set her up, penetrating the defense before slipping a pass to Orzel.
A year ago, it was Orzel, who took special pride in helping set up the 1,000th career point by Holweg, an NCAA Division II recruit who is committed to play at West Chester University.
Similarly, the remaining Orzel baskets down the stretch came about from appropriate methods.
Orzel, whose school-record rebounding efforts include 30 in a game a year ago, scored her next basket off an offensive rebound. Her final two baskets were the result of passes from younger sister Cassidy, who has emerged this season as the likely future leader as the Lady Warriors try to maintain what Holweg and Addison Orzel helped start.
The Orzel sisters worked together on the other end of the floor to block shots and clear defensive rebounds in the final minute before connecting on offense for the clinching points.
Holweg finished with 23 points, five steals and four assists on a night when she scored at least five points in every quarter and made 10 of her 12 foul shots.
Addison Orzel finished 5-for-6 from the floor and 7-for-8 from the line while adding 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.
The other starters each made significant contributions to the win.
Nicole Silinskie scored eight points, making three of five shots. She had five points in the 17-2 start, then hit her second 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter after Nanticoke had closed within one point for the final time.
Cassidy Orzel scored all seven of her points in the first half and finished with eight rebounds.
Aleah Kranson helped out from her guard position, grabbing nine rebounds as part of the team’s 43-34 advantage on the boards.
“The past few weeks have been physically and mentally difficult for me to get through,” Addison Orzel said. “ … I had to try to get as involved as I could from bench, which was hard, but my team rallied around me and supported me.
“I tried to do the same for them.”
With Orzel still rebuilding her stamina and getting accustomed to playing again, Lojewski carefully managed her minutes in what both player and coach describe as honest communications about her status. In the 22:39 she played Wednesday, the Lady Warriors outscored the Trojanettes, 53-36, offsetting being outscored 17-6 in the 9:21 that she sat.
“She looked like herself, but I didn’t want to overwork her,” Lojewski said. “She certainly seems to be reacting like the old Addison.”
And, Wyoming Area’s team Wednesday night acted more like the Lady Warriors who were perfect in the first half of the regular season.
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