Thomas Jefferson girls ride momentum into WPIAL soccer playoffs

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Saturday, October 24, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Thomas Jefferson posted a sparkling 10-2 record in league play in Sean Richter’s first season as head coach.

Unfortunately, both losses were to Section 3-3A champion Plum, which finished undefeated at 12-0.

The Jaguars ended up 13-2-1 and took an 11-game unbeaten streak into the WPIAL playoffs.

“Hopefully, we can stir the pot and make some moves in the playoffs,” Richter said before his No. 7 Jaguars’ scheduled game against Kiski Area in the first round Monday. “There are some really good teams out there. We are happy to be in position to get to compete with them. It would be great to have a home playoff game.

“My coaching staff, John (Supp) and Darin (Marcinko), have both been great and very important in the growth of the team. With all the restrictions with team practices dating back to March, John was diligent in keeping the girls working on their own and providing them with workouts they could do and track their progress. Girls came into camp fit and ready. This was a huge help that allowed us to spend more time playing and learning the game. Both have coached many of these girls at different stages, so that has been helpful with getting their feedback and input as I was able to learn more about the players for myself.

The Jaguars strung together an eight-game winning streak in the season’s second half and won 13 of 15 with one tie after opening with a loss against Plum. The Jaguars did not lose once in the month of October (11 games).

TJ outscored the opposition 46-2 during the winning streak as senior goalkeeper Maddison Sippey registered six consecutive shutouts between Oct. 2 and 12 and nine overall.

Sippey has been supported by a stellar defensive crew consisting of junior Bella Blosl, sophomores Jordan Sinclair and Olivia Supp and freshmen Cordie Wemyss and Abby Ngugi.

The Jaguars displayed resiliency and definite improvements throughout 2020. For example, after dropping a 4-1 decision to Plum in their 2020 lid-lifter, the TJ girls fell to the Mustangs, 1-0, in the rematch.

“Starting off the season playing No. 2 (Plum) in 3A gave us a look at what a high-quality team looked like,” Richter said. “The 4-1 loss gave us the motivation and direction we needed to go in. The bar was set, and the focus was all about how we would prepare to match that team the second time around. We knew if we could accomplish that, we could play with anyone in our section. The girls always looked forward and worked. Every practice session and game we got better and better. We learned more about ourselves and were becoming a better team.

“Two of our first five games were against Plum. Our second was a 1-0 loss but was a game changer. Changes in our play started becoming more visible. Things were starting to come together. We were able to remain organized in the back and move forward with a balanced attack. This catapulted us into section play, and girls started finding the back of the net.”

The Jaguars’ starting lineup for the postseason is expected to consist of Sippey at keeper; Blosl, Sinclair, Supp and Wemyss on defense; senior midfielders Emily Kane and Ava Lutz; junior midfielder Hailey Krawczyk; sophomore forwards Abby Attkinson and Emma Martinis; and freshman forward Natalie Lamenza.

Lamenza netted both goals in TJ’s late-season 2-1 win against Baldwin in double overtime.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way we have been playing,” Lutz said. “This team is so motivated and eager to score goals and win games as a unit. We have a super young, talented team, so I can only imagine how successful they’re going to be once the underclassmen have some varsity experience under their belts.

“I’m so proud of how far we’ve come as a program and everything we’ve accomplished this season so far. I seriously couldn’t have asked for a better, more exciting final senior season.”

Lutz raved about the Jaguars’ defensive performance this season. After the first game at Plum, TJ allowed only six goals the rest of the way. The Jaguars peppered in 68 goals overall.

“Maddison Sippey, with help from our back four, has absolutely dominated games,” she said. “Natalie Lamenza, a major contributor to our offense, has stepped up and filled some big shoes, as well.

“I’m also super impressed with midfielder Abby Atkinson. She’s not afraid to challenge the ball, especially in the air, and has a clear vision of what needs to happen next when she’s on the field. Last but not least, coach Richter has been amazing. Ending my soccer career with him coaching the program is more than I could have asked for. He’s motivating, knowledgeable and always does what’s best for us girls.”

Kane, like her midfield teammate, is proud of the Jaguars’ accomplishments in 2020.

“This team’s performance has really exceeded my expectations,” Kane said. “Many of the young girls on the team have stepped up for us in so many big ways. I believe we really went out there and left it all on the field, especially against the tougher opponents.

“Our team is strong in transitioning from defense to offense and possessing the ball. We have become more and more confident in playing out of the back to our defense and finding our wide players. Our midfield especially has a lot of chemistry and can find each other easily.”

Two of the underclassmen, Lamenza and Martinis, lead in scoring, complemented offensively by Supp, Kane and Krawczyk.

“We knew this team, being so young, would need many to contribute to be successful,” Richter said. “We have 20 players with a varsity goal or assist. I could not be happier with their progress and the commitment each player has given. I know they worked hard for it and adapted to change very well, and I’m proud of all of them. We want to continue to work and get better.”

Richter noted it’s been a genuine “team effort” this season.

“The TJ Boosters and parents have been supportive and great,” he said. “This is not the typical season with everything that is going on. Everyone has been doing their part to make it the absolute best season we can for the girls.”

Following their strong regular season, the Jaguars were highly anticipating the WPIAL playoffs.

“My expectations are high,” Lutz said. “We’ve proven to others and ourselves that we can hang and compete with any team. I have so much confidence and trust in each and every girl standing beside me when we’re competing on the field. This is our year, and we couldn’t be more excited to play and win.”

Kane was anticipating a strong playoff run.

“Our dedication and hard work are definitely paying off, and it shows on the field,” she said. “We’re all very excited for what the playoffs hold. My expectation is to obviously play the way we know how to play and go far.”

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