Baldwin basketball teams take fresh approach

Sunday, December 6, 2020 | 10:16 AM

Location, location, location.

Veteran coach Jeff Ackermann has returned to his South Hills roots.

A Brentwood native who has won five WPIAL titles and one PIAA championship at various schools, Ackermann was hired in May to oversee the boys basketball program at Baldwin.

“We have a fairly young team with only two seniors on the roster,” Ackermann said. “I think we have a lot of guys that are returning from last year’s team. Our goal is to compete every night with every team we play. Then we want to get better as the season progresses.”

Ackermann, 47, is counting on Joey Starzynski and Connor Lavelle to provide early leadership for the Highlanders.

“Joey is one of our seniors and he should have a great year,” Ackermann said. “Connor is our other senior and he is a great leader for us. He goes hard all the time and is willing to play anywhere we need him.”

The daily commute from his South Fayette home to his teaching position at Chartiers Valley while coaching at Pine-Richland, along with a young, growing family, led Ackermann to apply at Baldwin.

He is joined in the Highlanders’ basketball program by coach Jamal Woodson, who was hired to lead the girls team and gives Baldwin two fresh outlooks for the foreseeable future.

“We are excited to welcome coach Ackermann and coach Woodson to Baldwin athletics,” said John “Jay” Saras, Baldwin’s athletic coordinator. “Each one brings an energy and passion about the game of basketball, on and off the playing court. Coach Ackermann brings a resume that is impressive in a sense of wins and losses, WPIAL and PIAA championships. He has coached and won in big games at high levels, and his player development is second to none.

“Most importantly, though, is that coach Ackermann is a teacher. He is a teacher in the sense of teaching basketball, and teaching life lessons to our players. He is and will be a positive role model for not only our current players, but also for the players at the middle school and youth level.”

Ackermann is the Highlanders’ fourth coach since 2002.

“When we were interviewing (Ackermann),” Saras said, “he said with passion, which drew my immediate attention, ‘I am a winner. I am here to win. I am not here to lose.’ That struck me in that he has a focus, is driven and has a vision for the Baldwin boys basketball program.”

A 1991 Brentwood graduate, Ackermann competed in basketball and football in high school. He also is a graduate of Cal (Pa.).

He began his coaching career as a college student. While attending California, Ackermann coached South Park’s boys junior varsity squad before moving on to coach at Moon and Pine-Richland

“This is my 20th year as a head coach and I am looking forward to it,” he said.

Woodson focused on 2020-21 season

Woodson can be considered Ackermann’s polar opposite in the sense of head coaching experience at the high school level.

A native of Washington D.C., Woodson attended and played hoops at Pitt-Greensburg in the late 1990s and is known to have a loud, energetic personality. Like Ackermann, he coached at a local high school while attending college.

“My coaching philosophy is to get our players to buy in to the program,” Woodson said. “We have had 5 a.m. practice in the snow outside in 32 degree weather, running nine miles a week outside of workouts in the offseason, and tons of conditioning in and out of practice. We have also gone bowling and done things outside of basketball to create an atmosphere for the kids to feel cohesive.

“I am all about hard work and dedication to this sport and this team. Getting the players to buy in to a new coaching staff is always the hardest part. Once they are bought in, there are no limits.”

Woodson, 41, was a top assistant at Oakland Catholic for seven years after stops at North Hills and Wilkinsburg, where he was head coach for one season.

“We have a tough schedule this year,” Woodson said. “We as a staff have had the girls working out for the past five months. I am anticipating a successful season. We have eight varsity players that all want to go to WPIALs and win in their final year, so anything less I am unsatisfied with.

“This team is special; the girls are special. Coming to the Baldwin parking lot at 4:30 a.m., seeing everyone there waiting for the 5 a.m. practice hit a little different and made us realize we have girls that will run through a brick wall for us. Having 16 girls on a varsity team, some might think it is crazy, I just feel blessed. The best part about this team is they all really get along, which makes a drama-free team extra special.”

Woodson has served as an AAU coach for 15 years as the founder and director of SLAAM Basketball.

“Coach Woodson has been successful in the AAU circuit,” Saras said. “While he has coaching experience in the WPIAL as an assistant, he leads an organization in the AAU circuit as a head coach. That experience also lends to player development. He teaches the game of basketball to all players at all levels. Coach Woodson was looking for an opportunity to embrace not only the Baldwin girls basketball program, but the Baldwin-Whitehall school community.

“We are fortunate to have these two new coaches leading our basketball programs, and we look forward to great things.”


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