With coach Jonna Burke on sidelines thanks to judge’s ruling, Shady Side Academy girls in position to contend

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Saturday, December 2, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Jonna Burke feels fortunate to have the assistant coaching staff she does with the Shady Side Academy girls basketball program. It’s made it easier for the Bulldogs to deal with the fallout from a one-year suspension levied on the coach in July.

A federal judge has granted Burke an injunction allowing her to coach the team and avoid a suspension for now.

Burke was suspended by the WPIAL after facing recruiting allegations, and the PIAA upheld the suspension in August.

“It made things more difficult for me, personally,” Burke said. “My team was in great hands with my assistant coaches. They ran a normal fall preseason. Luckily for me, the kids were in shape and they were ready. .. I think for me, it was a matter of shaking off rust and getting back to the coaching mindset. Normally, I’m with them a lot longer.”

The Bulldogs, who were scheduled to open the season Dec. 2 against Philadelphia power Imhotep Charter during the Play 4 Mae Event at Woodland Hills, are happy Burke can be along for the ride again. During Burke’s second season, Shady Side Academy finished 25-4 and reached the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals.

The Bulldogs will bring back three starters from last season: sophomore point guard Karis Thomas, sophomore shooting guard Maggie Spell and junior Cam Capel.

Cassie Sauer also started games for the Bulldogs last season and will be counted on to provide a tough inside presence. Freshman Leah Buford will also be expected to play.

Burke believes all of those players seeing significant minutes as underclassmen will serve them well this season.

“There’s no replacement for experience,” Burke said. “It puts us that much further ahead. When you have a young team, the next year you have a more experienced team, but they are still young. These kids play a lot of basketball anyway and come with experience.”

Building on that experience will be important for the Bulldogs. In an ideal world, Burke said they would like to play at a fast tempo and pressure opponents.

Shady Side Academy held its opponents to fewer than 40 points per game last season.

“The way we’d like to play is more up-tempo, more transition type of basketball,” Burke said. “These kids like that, and they want to run in transition and see if they can score. We want to be a more pressure-defensive type of team.”

Burke was happy that Shady Side Academy had eight nonsection games before the Bulldogs had to start Section 3-3A play. The Bulldogs hope to start developing their mojo before opening the section schedule against Apollo-Ridge on Jan. 2 on the road.

“I think finding our identity and finding a balance,” Burke said. ‘We have some kids that can shoot the ball. Leah is a good driver. Cassie is strong inside. We have to find what works best for us offensively. I think that’s a work in progress.”

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