Thomas Jefferson girls bring hard-nosed play, intangibles to the court |
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Thomas Jefferson's Paige Risley tries to work around West Mifflin defender Jiahna Flood Francis during the third quarter of game action on Monday, January 13, 2014, at West Mifflin.

Heading into his second season as coach of the Thomas Jefferson girls basketball team, Phil Shar welcomes back 13 players from last season’s WPIAL Class AAA playoff roster.

The coach said he already is seeing the strides the team is making on a daily basis.

“We have 16 girls on the team, and all 16 can play,” Shar said. “What that does is we really have competitive practices. This is the first time I’ve ever had a team like this where I have a lot of girls.

“Every one of them, when we practice they go at each other, and the result is that we’re getting better every day.”

With the collection of talent and experience the Jaguars have to offer, Shar plans to utilize the team’s depth to its fullest.

“We’re going to go 10-deep in our rotation,” Shar said. “That’s probably the only problem I have. We have a lot of girls that deserve to play, but how many girls can you get in the game?”

Although all of the positions in the TJ rotation have not been filled, senior Paige Risley figures to run the show at point guard.

“Right now, Paige is going to be our point guard,” Shar said. “I just think she’s gotten so much better from the beginning of last year until today.She’s just really improved. She’s really solid.”

Two other constants in the Jaguars rotation will be sisters Courtney Zoglmann (senior) and Haley Zoglmann (sophomore), with both playing forward. Freshman Bailey Matrascia and sophomore Alexis Zovko also are expected to see playing time in the post.

“Out of those four girls, three of them will start and the other one will rotate to give them a break,” Shar said. “They all run the floor extremely well and they’re tough inside, too.”

Freshman Marina Petruzzi, junior Caroline Willig, senior Sara Mackulin and junior Renee Swallow are in competition for the last starting guard position.

“I really believe our intangibles are off the charts in a positive way,” Shar said. “Now when I’m talking about intangibles, I’m saying that all of these girls show up every day, practice hard every day with a smile on their face.”

Thomas Jefferson has its work cut out in section play, with three of its 4-AAA foes having made the semifinals in last season’s WPIAL playoffs.

Still, Shar said he believes his team can be competitive.

“I think we can be really good,” Shar said. “I think our goal should be a 20-win season, even though our schedule is going to be really tough, we’re shooting for 20 wins.”

Thomas Jefferson opens up the season against Bethel Park at 8 p.m. Dec. 5 at Bethel Park.

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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