New-look Thomas Jefferson girls soccer team building momentum

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Sunday, October 11, 2020 | 11:01 AM


The Thomas Jefferson girls soccer program has enjoyed notable success in recent years.

The Jaguars qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for a sixth straight year in 2019. Jason Vozar resigned as head coach following the season, and his assistant, Sean Richter, was hired.

Richter, 46, took over a team that went 12-7-1 and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals a year ago.

It’s been a smooth transition.

Through early October, Thomas Jefferson was 6-2 overall and 5-2 in Section 3-3A.

“We will be a team that competes and can hopefully shake things up,” Richter said. “This is a process, one that started the first day of practice. We have a lot of young talent. It is a matter of how quickly they adjust to our style and adjusting to being on the field with bigger, faster, older competition.

“We have to stay committed to the process. Trust it, and just get better at what we want to do as a team. We have an environment where the players are pushed. They need to be able to be accountable, to think and make decisions on their own. We will get better as the players grow together.”

TJ’s starting lineup consists of a nice mix of three senior captains, two juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen.

“We only have three seniors and five players who consistently saw varsity minutes last season,” Richter said. “That being said, the leadership from the three seniors is strong. The younger players rely heavily on their leadership and guidance.”

The Jaguars’ senior co-captains are goalkeeper Maddison Sippey and midfielders Ava Lutz and Emily Kane.

“Maddison has been fantastic to date,” Richter said. “She is vocal and has been very big in key games. She’s had two penalty kick saves.

“Ava and Emily run the midfield with junior Hailey Krawczyk, who saw good minutes last year. Ava is a field leader. She plays with an energy that is contagious. She’s always improving, and her work rate elevates the players around her.

“Emily is a hard working, technical player. She is a team leader who brings a positive attitude and great work rate. And she can play multiple positions.”

Junior Elana Kondos, sophomore Jordan Sinclair plus two standout freshmen, Abby Ngugi and Cordie Wemyss, lead the way defensively for the Jaguars.

“We run a young backline,” Richter said. “At center back, Jordan and Abby have played a lot of youth soccer together so they have a very good chemistry.”

After opening the 2020 schedule with a loss to section leader Plum, the Jaguars outscored the opposition 29-2 over the next seven games. Sippey posted five shutouts in the team’s first six wins.

“I’m incredibly proud of how we have been playing,” Sippey said. “We have such a young team, and our style couldn’t be more different than last year. We’re focusing on playing out of the back and building momentum as we move forward. This is putting a lot of pressure on myself and the four defenders in front of me.

“Usually, we have Cordie, Jordan, Abby and Elana as our back four, and many would think that their lack of experience would be a cause for concern. But that is far from reality. They are able to compete with anyone.”

Emma Martinis, a sophomore and returning starter, shares the forward position with sophomore Olivia Supp and another top freshman player, Natalie Lamenza.

“It is a good mix of speed, strength and composure,” Richter said. “The trio’s been productive, combining for seven goals and three assists in our first four games.”

Lamenza led the squad in scoring through seven contests. She was complemented offensively by Martinis, who sat out a few games with an injury, Supp, Kane and Lutz. Krawczyk led in assists.

“Having seven to 10 players with assists or goals is a good sign that we’re moving in the right direction,” Richter said. “We got thrown to the wolves early. We played Plum twice and played them well the second time. We lost 1-0, but it was a big game for the team.”

TJ’s reserves include juniors Mya Greshner (F), Ashley Sukal (MF) and Bella Blosl (D); sophomores Morgan Allen (F), Courtney Laing (D), Cameron Gore (MF) and Abby Attkinson (MF); along with freshmen Alexis Marcinko and Kara Day, both defenders, and midfielder Katie Sukal.

Richter coached previously with the West Mifflin and TJ boys teams and at Penn State Greater Allegheny. He also has experience with Jaguars United, spent time with the Pittsburgh Football Club and currently coaches with Century United.

“I am just a guy who loves the game and loves to coach,” Richter said. “I coached a lot of the (TJ) high school boys, my boys (Owen and Marshall) included.”

Richter is assisted by John Supp, father of Olivia, and Darin Marcinko, father of Alexis.

“Our philosophy is to create a learning environment that players want to be a part of,” Richter said. “It has to matter to them and be something that they just have to be a part of. We encourage individual thought and creativity. Players have to be able to play and express themselves. We teach concepts — different ways to look at the game and situations.

“We create a thought process so a player can make decisions on the field, play faster and be a better player and teammate. We go into the season with short-term goals, and we use these to guide us in accomplishing long-term goals.”

Sippey, a fourth-year starter, owns a 4.3 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society, as well as the TJ vs. Cancer and International clubs. Speaking about the global pandemic, she said the TJ girls complete daily health checks, have their temperature checked before every practice, and must wear a mask when not on the pitch for practices or games.

“The pandemic has clearly had a huge affect on all of us,” Sippey said. “Usually, from January to the start of our season in August, we try to hold a voluntary practice once or twice a week so we can work on things such as foot skills and conditioning. However, we had to take several months off and it definitely slowed down our process. Many (players) did not get to train much over quarantine.”

The Jaguars were aiming to clinch a seventh consecutive playoff berth as they reached the home stretch of the season.

“The team has surpassed so many expectations that I had,” Sippey said. “I’m confident we will finish toward the top of our section and get a high seed for playoffs and have our first home playoff game.”

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