Thomas Jefferson, Baldwin, Brentwood girls basketball teams have playoff ambitions

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Sunday, December 13, 2020 | 8:40 PM


Here’s a look at the high school girls basketball teams for the South Hills Record coverage area:

Thomas Jefferson

The Thomas Jefferson girls won’t soon forget the wild ride that was the 2019-20 season.

The Jaguars started out 7-1, won three and lost three midseason games, and wrapped it up with five consecutive victories down the season’s home stretch.

The top four teams in Section 1-5A were Chartiers Valley (14-0), Trinity (11-3), TJ (10-4) and Moon (9-5).

TJ advanced to the WPIAL Class 5A semifinal round and PIAA quarterfinals before things were shut down abruptly by the coronavirus pandemic that swept across the country.

The TJ girls ended up 20-7 overall after going 2-1 in the WPIAL playoffs and 2-0 in the state tournament. The Jaguars were WPIAL finalists and PIAA semifinalists in 2018-19, finishing with a 22-8 record.

“I believe our team has the heart and drive that our teams have had the last two seasons,” TJ coach Lisa Fairman said. “We have several talented girls from all grade levels that have been battling for starting positions.”

TJ’s floor boss noted that her team is motivated to first have a season, then carve out another winning campaign.

“The energy and excitement in the gym is motivating,” Fairman said. “Plus, we have great leadership with our upperclassmen. And we have all been doing our part to wear masks and avoid large gatherings. We all realize we have to be smart with our decisions and give up even some fun things we used to be able to do to put the team first and have a chance of having a season.

Six seniors graduated from last year’s playoff squad, including 1,000-point scorer Alyssa DeAngelo, now a freshman guard/forward at Fairmont State.

Returning starters this year include 5-foot-8 senior G/F Maddy Trainer and two high-energy junior guards, 5-5 Graci Fairman and 5-3 Lydia Zoglmann.

They are joined by seniors Jera Esper at forward, Lexi Dadig at guard and Cindy Obiero at forward, junior guard Katrina Simkiw and sophomores Delaney Concannon (G/F), Julia Berberich (G) and Abby Atkinson (G) as players hoping to make an impact. G/F Gabby Breisinger, G/F Laekyn Flinn and G Raygen Hintemeyer are top freshmen.

“Gabby can run the 4 or 5 position, Laekyn the 3 or 4 and Raygen the 1 or 2,” Fairman said. “Cindy Obiero joined the team last year and has worked very hard. She will be able to help us with our inside game.”

TJ has moved into Section 3-5A this season along with Albert Gallatin, Connellsville, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold, Trinity and Uniontown. Trinity was the WPIAL runner-up with a final record of 21-5 last season. None of the other teams in the section was a playoff qualifier.

“My expectation for our team is to be the best rebounding and defensive team in the league,” Fairman said, “and the rest will fall into place.”

Baldwin

Baldwin has the look, supported by a fierce work ethic from its players, of a potential powerhouse team at the WPIAL Class 6A level.

First-year coach Jamal Woodson welcomed eight seniors with two or three years of varsity experience to his squad.

And with five talented juniors and several sophomores and freshmen in the mix, Woodson’s biggest early season hurdle may be finding playing time for the players.

“My expectations are very high,” Woodson said. “We have an experienced team that has been playing together since grade school.

“Some people think we are crazy for having a 16-player varsity roster. I think we are blessed.”

The Highlanders are led by a strong senior class consisting of Meghan Dryburgh, Lexi Bernotas, Kayla Radomsky and Cassie Pantelis in the frontcourt, with Anna Lucarelli, Abby Marzini and Sydney Carr in the backcourt, plus an influx of junior guards including Morgan Altavilla, Emiley Hillgartner, Leyna Laurent and Alyvia Cox. Lucarelli recently committed to West Liberty.

Dryburgh, who was lauded as a Class 6A preseason player to watch by Trib HSSN, has an offer from Millersville. Dryburgh is a 5-foot-10 center/forward who averaged 11 points per game last season.

Two other players hoping to make an impact for the Highlanders are senior Taylor Walker and junior Heidi Johnston.

Baldwin finished with a 13-11 record in 2019-20 and shocked Central Dauphin, 42-35, in the first round of the PIAA tournament. Central Dauphin won the District 3 title with a 26-1 record and was ranked No. 1 in the state by Trib HSSN.

“We have eight returning seniors,” Woodson said. “Each game might be a different (starting) lineup. We have so much talent that we want to make the right decision and put the five out there that will give us the best chance of winning each game.”

Woodson is known for his high-energy coaching approach and said opposing teams will see in-your-face, man-to-man, full-court defensive pressure from the Highlanders, along with a new-look offense.

“We run an entirely different offense than the girls have been used to the past two years,” Woodson said. “It took a little while for them to get used to it, but they are finally starting to get it.”

Woodson and his staff have been impressed by the dedication and passion displayed by the Baldwin players.

“The biggest surprise for us as coaches was seeing the dedication from each player,” Woodson said. “We had 5 a.m. practices in 32-degree weather and the entire team showed up at 4. We trained in the offseason with NFL veteran Chris Edmonds doing speed and agility. The girls were required to run nine miles on their own outside of workouts. Everything was logged through the Nike Run app. What I love most is that no one complained and everyone showed up.”

Baldwin is in Section 2-6A again this season. Other section teams are Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan, Hempfield, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair.

USC, Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park were ranked second, third and fifth in Class 6A in the Trib HSSN girls basketball preseason rankings.

The Highlanders’ playoff berth last season was their first since 2014-15.

They are anxious to make it two in a row, followed by an extended playoff run.

Brentwood

The Brentwood girls missed the WPIAL basketball playoffs last year for the first time since 2012-13.

The Spartans were a young team with just one senior and two juniors on the varsity roster.

Veteran coach Rachel Thomas worked with four sophomores and five freshmen in a rebuilding 2019-20 season.

Paige Miller and Taylor Davis, both returning senior starters, and junior guard Maura Daly, another returning starter who was named the team’s most outstanding player in 2019-20, are joined in the lineup by junior guard Bella Grimm and freshman guard Mallory Daly.

Miller is a 6-foot senior forward; Davis is a 5-4 senior guard.

Sophomore guards Jenna Yee and Brianna Folino and freshman forward Mia March have stepped up into key reserve roles for the Spartans.

“I expect out team to be very competitive in our new section,” Thomas said. “We have a solid core of returning starters mixed with additional talent from last year along with the freshmen. Mia March and Mallory Daly have both had a great preseason. They both will be able to contribute a lot to our team.”

Brentwood ended up 7-13 last season and finished fifth in Section 2-2A behind playoff qualifiers Serra Catholic, Ellis School, Winchester Thurston and Riverview.

Two years ago, the Spartans advanced to the WPIAL finals for the first time since 1994, where they lost to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 50-48. The Brentwood hoopsters also reached the PIAA second round to wrap up one of the best seasons in program history with a 20-5 record.

The Spartans are determined to return to the playoffs in 2020-21.

“I’m really excited about this season,” said Thomas, Brentwood’s eighth-year coach who won the 100th game of her career Jan. 30 against Winchester Thurston. “There is a lot of promise and a lot of speed on this team. The girls are working hard and showing improvement every day.”

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