Stronger now, East's Mazzarelli sparkles

Over a seven-week period in the summer, West Chester East's Nina Mazzarelli (right) hit the gym to strengthen her legs - especially a banged-up left knee - work on her core, and focus on her upper body. She ultimately became a stronger, more physical player. CHARLES FOX / Staff
Over a seven-week period in the summer, West Chester East's Nina Mazzarelli (right) hit the gym to strengthen her legs - especially a banged-up left knee - work on her core, and focus on her upper body. She ultimately became a stronger, more physical player. CHARLES FOX / Staff
Posted: January 05, 2014

It was the last day of July last year, and Nina Mazzarelli had played in more than 60 basketball games over five months with her AAU team, the Rebels.

Her West Chester East coach, Moe Blatt, had some advice.

Actually, it was more like an order than advice.

Blatt, who took over the Vikings when Mazzarelli was a freshman, is also on the coaching staff of the Rebels, and he told the senior guard that she couldn't touch a basketball until Sept. 15. She needed to refresh and relax a bit, he said.

The two joked about placing cameras in her car because they both knew how hard it would be for a self-proclaimed "gym rat" to stay away from the basketball court.

But she did - kind of.

Over that seven-week period, Mazzarelli hit the gym to strengthen her legs - especially her banged-up left knee - work on her core, and focus on her upper body. She ultimately became a stronger and more physical player.

Was staying away from the court difficult? Mazzarelli said, unequivocally, yes.

"It was what I needed," she said, before adding, "I felt like I was in withdrawal a bit."

When she wasn't working or relaxing on the beach in Ocean City, N.J., Mazzarelli coached at the Sixers camp with East boys' coach Eric Anderson, whom Mazzarelli credited with making her a better player through his support and advice.

She also coached local children - fifth through eighth graders - at the ACAC Fitness and Wellness Center in West Chester, teaching them the fundamentals that Reggie Wade had taught her when she was a youngster.

Mazzarelli, a 5-foot-9 combo guard, came back from her hiatus with fresh legs, and is now averaging more than 25 points for East (6-2). She scored a season high of 38 against Bensalem, and has netted 17 or more in every game this season.

"I'm extremely hard on myself," Mazzarelli said. "I know what I'm capable of, but I don't take it [to heart]. Every game, I raise the bar for myself. After a win, after a loss, I ask, what can I do better?"

Mazzarelli has never been a "statistic hound," Blatt said, and the coach is most impressed with how productive and efficient she is, especially with her ability to generate contact and get to the foul line.

A perfect example of that, Blatt said, came against Academy Park. The Knights played a box-and-one defense aimed at stopping Mazzarelli, and she ended up scoring 34 points, despite taking only 14 shots from the floor.

Scoring, though, isn't her main focus - it's qualifying for the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs. That's something the Vikings were one win away from a season ago.

In Mazzarelli's first three seasons with the program, East hasn't competed in the district tournament.

"It would be extremely exciting," Mazzarelli said of qualifying this season. "It would be emotional. It would be everything I've wanted and worked hard for.

"It would mean the world to me."


rallysports@phillynews.com

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