New coach keeps positive outlook as Jeannette girls basketball eyes rebound

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Sunday, November 20, 2022 | 4:49 PM


The climb back to respectability is steep for Anna Leonard, the new girls basketball coach at Jeannette. But she is ready to scale the challenge and doesn’t plan to look down.

“I’m not nervous. I’m excited,” Leonard said. “It’s not just a challenge for the girls, it’s a challenge for me. This allows me to get creative. We’re going to hide our weaknesses until we can strengthen them.”

Leonard, an assistant last season at West Mifflin and an active AAU coach, inherits a 41-game losing streak. Jeannette has gone 0-19 the last two years and averaged just 16.1 points last season.

But the Jayhawks lose only one senior as they drop to WPIAL Class A.

Leonard, the team’s fourth coach since 2017, hoped to have 14 players for practice, which opened Friday. The season begins Dec. 2. Some she knew from fall play, others she had yet to meet.

“Coaching is a privilege,” Leonard said. “My job is to guide them on their journey, through activities, and through what goes on in life. It’s not just about the scoreboard.”

Seniors Frankie Crosby, Kira Wright, Savannah Lock and Jordan Bass are back, and sophomore forward Mary Jones, who came off the bench last season, should take on a greater role.

“We don’t want the girls to play as individuals. We want them to play as a unit,” Leonard said. “And I want to play position-less basketball. A lot of these girls were told they couldn’t dribble, so they didn’t. We want to change that. I want to be ahead of that, play fluently and get a buy-in.”

There were plenty of unknowns early on as the coach learned more about her personnel.

Juniors Venicia Vignoli and Oceana Felipe-Sirinic also could play, along with freshman Navarah Smith. Senior Haylee Hlavsa is a newcomer.

If Jeannette doesn’t have a full turnout, Leonard is ready to adjust.

She already had a taste of low roster numbers with the junior high team, which played daringly this fall with just five players.

“Our Fab Five,” Leonard said. “They are committed to working hard. We had some of the varsity girls help them out as ‘basketball buddies.’ We played with five at that level. We’ll play with five at varsity if we have to. The girls are resilient.”

Leonard also plans to work with the booster program to enhance offseason preparation.

“We have a huge fundraiser planned so we can pay for summer and fall leagues for the girls,” Leonard said.

Community support, Leonard said, is a building block heading into the future.

Former Jeannette star Ciara Gregory, an assistant coach at Charlotte, her college alma mater, sent the team a letter of encouragement after seeing Leonard’s social media posts about the five junior high players.

“That was nice to see,” Leonard said. “The girls were really intrigued to hear from such an accomplished player and supporter.”

At a glance

Coach: Anna Leonard

Last year’s record: 0-19 (0-19 Section 4-2A)

Returning starters: Frankie Crosby (Sr., G), Savannah Lock (Sr., G)

Top newcomers: Mary Jones (So. F), Oceana Felipe-Sirinic (Jr. G), Veronica Vignoli (Jr. F)

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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