Jeannette girls basketball team undaunted by low numbers

Sunday, November 19, 2023 | 5:57 PM

I’ll play with five.

This has been one of the sayings that second-year coach Anna Leonard has been using during her time as the Jeannette girls basketball coach.

It looks like Leonard only will have five players available to play for the Jayhawks this season as Jeannette looks to improve on their record of 2-20 overall, 2-6 in Section 3-A last season.

The Jayhawks snapped their 51-game losing streak when they defeated Hillel Academy, 68-13, in the beginning of January. Jeannette beat Hillel Academy, a WPIAL newcomer from Squirrel Hill, again later in the season 53-11.

Senior guard/forward Venicia Vignoli returns and will take on a bigger role as the Jayhawks look to replace the graduated Franke Crosby and Jordan Bass.

“Her game has grown from a footwork standpoint but more importantly from a vocal standpoint. I’ve seen her during open gyms being more vocal, more confident and pushing the girls to want to be better,” Leonard said.

“She has been a really big motivator during open gyms. I think it will translate well to the floor because I think positive energy boosts the morale of any team. I hope it becomes infectious and we see it spread.”

Junior forward Mary Jones will rejoin Vignoli in the starting lineup this year.

The Jayhawks will have a pair of freshmen in their starting lineup: point guard Adriana Allison and forward Karmen Kistner. Senior MaKenna Craft, who also plays soccer, will be the fifth starter for Jeannette.

Last season, Jeannette lost nine games by 10 points or less. Leonard is hoping Allison’s presence in the lineup will turn those close losses in their favor.

“She plays a true point guard role. She scores when she needs to, but she makes everybody around her look better. She gets them in the right position to be successful,” Leonard said.

“We had several close games last year, but we were missing that little piece and I think, even though she’s a young point guard, I think she’s prepared for what she’s going to see at the high school level.”

Leonard has made sure to not waste her impact on the girls on her team on and off the floor. She makes sure each player has a basketball buddy to hold her accountable in the classroom and on the court.

“I’m really comfortable with our coach. She’s really dependable. We all look to her for everything, even for things outside of basketball. She’s our rock. We lean on her, and she leans on us,” Vignoli said.

“She really pushes us to do the best that we can. She does a really good job of letting the girls’ talents shine through and hide the flaws on the floor.”

The Jayhawks may have a couple other players who will be available to come off the bench. Even if Leonard doesn’t get reinforcements, she is excited for the coaching challenge.

“The positive thing is each one of those players is going to get more one-on-one opportunities for growth. I can commit more time to each player. There are a ton of drills I can do with five on the floor, and I will jump in and I’ll do three-on-three if need be,” Leonard said.

“It’s going to only help elevate me as a coach because I’m going to have to be creative and think outside of the box.”

The Jayhawks will open their season at the Aquinas Tip Off Tournament on Dec. 1-2.

“We are going to come into the season as underdogs, but I think we are going to make people turn heads,” Leonard said.

Jeannette girls at a glance

Coach: Anna Leonard

Last year’s record: 2-20 (2-6 Section 3-A)

Returning starters: Venicia Vignoli (Sr., F), Mary Jones (Jr., F)

Top newcomers: Adriana Allison (Fr., G), Karmen Kistner (Fr., F), MaKenna Craft (Sr., F)


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