New coach expects Sewickley Academy girls to adopt defensive identity

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Sunday, November 27, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Sewickley Academy girls basketball team has a new head coach. She is not new to the program, however.

Jill Capozzi has taken over as head coach after serving as an assistant to Mark Gaither last season.

“I left teaching and coaching to raise my children and last year got back into it and am now enjoying being back in the head coach role,” Capozzi said. “I was the assistant coach last year, so I am familiar with the players. We will be very inexperienced for the most part, especially in learning an entirely new system on both ends of the court.

“I like what I see to this point in terms of how well the girls are picking up on our schemes and how well they are responding to our team identity, which will be defensively driven.”

Capozzi, who is assisted by Tyler Warford and Mark Winiecki, has a strong background in basketball including 13 years of head coaching experience with big-school programs at Norwin, Franklin Regional, her alma mater and Shaler.

She played collegiately at Pitt-Johnstown and was part of the program’s Final Four team. She was a two-time Kodak All-American and an inductee into the school’s hall of fame.

“My basic coaching philosophy is wrapped up in our team identity,” Capozzi said. “I’m hopeful that our identity will lie in our defense and rebounding. Our goal at the moment is to enjoy the process. I feel we are a relatively raw team, so we have to be extremely focused in our learning. We will definitely take it one game at a time and hopefully build on each experience.

“We are learning a new system and are getting great buy-in, so that will help propel us to some early season success.”

Two returning starters in 2022-23 are senior guard Rinnie Jardini and senior forward Olivia Jackson.

“Rinnie and Olivia are going to be in a leadership role for us and will be counted on heavily in that role,” Capozzi said. “I expect both of them to have a good senior year and be productive on both ends of the court.

“Rinnie’s strengths are her shooting and ball-handling skills, and Olivia brings a lot of energy and defensive tenacity to our team.”

Jardini, who also plays soccer and lacrosse, tossed in a season-high 17 points Jan. 8 against Ellis School last season. She is looking to help build the program at SA to a viable force this year and in the future.

“My early expectations are to be competitive in every game we play and to create a stronger program going forward,” Jardini said. “There is fantastic energy within the team, so I’m excited to see how that translates onto the court.

“We live and play as a team. Our team culture this year is really positive and supportive, so our team is already super tight-knit. We hold each other accountable well, and there is a noticeably deep trust between the girls.”

Jackson believes talent and team chemistry will take the Panthers far this season.

“We got a nice start during our offseason to get to know each other and see how everyone plays,” she said, “so I am pretty confident that our coach has us in a good position to start strong.

“We have players that display great defensive skills, and I think the more we work together, the stronger our team’s defense will be. I think a strength is also the chemistry we have. We work well together and are able to correct each other’s mistakes without anyone taking offense. I also believe that we are a very coachable team.”

Jackson in particular is looking forward to playing for Capozzi in her senior season.

“We have a new head coach who has made team bonding a priority,” Jackson said, “which has been great in helping us develop our chemistry off the court and has made its way on to the court as we’ve seen in our recent practices.

“She has also made it a priority to establish team goals, expectations and essentials. Her basketball experience has allowed her to come in with a great basketball IQ that is serving well in helping us develop our knowledge of the game. Her energy is out of this world and has helped create a positive vibe on the team. I think we have a good season ahead of us and I am excited to see how it all plays out.”

Two newcomers to the SA lineup are Libby Eannarino, a junior guard, and Bella Yakich, a freshman guard.

“They will be part of the starting five,” Capozzi said. “We will need everyone on this year’s team to play a key role. Laila Wade is our senior center, and she is stepping into a starting role for the first time in her high school career.”

Junior forward Lia Frazzini also is expected to see considerable playing time for the Panthers.

“We have several sophomores that will need to step into key roles to give us quality time off the bench,” Capozzi said.

The sophomore class is represented on the team by Celia Helbling, Skylar Nocito, Lauren Retzlaff, Quincy Sirko and Josefina Whitecraft.

One starter not back from last year is Virginia Gaither, a junior guard who blew out her ACL in February and will miss the entire 2022-23 season. Gaither led SA in scoring and 3-point shooting. She has transferred to Upper St. Clair.

SA had five new starters last season and finished with a 5-11 record and a 3-9 mark in Section 1-2A. The Panthers lost nine of their last 10 games after starting out 4-2.

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