Thomas Jefferson girls look forward to WPIAL playoffs
The Thomas Jefferson girls soccer team wrapped up its best regular season in recent memory with an impressive 15-3 overall record.
It is, in fact, the second-best mark since the start of the new millennium. TJ posted a 19-2 regular-season record in 2000.
The Jaguars tied for second place with Chartiers Valley in Section 3-AAA with an 11-3 record, behind only South Park (13-1). And the Jaguars were ranked consistently in the top five by the Tribune-Review this season.
“Overall, our team’s performance has really been remarkable,” coach Jason Vozar said. “The entire group has continued to work hard in training every week. We certainly have had our ups and downs, but I’m proud to be associated with these young women.”
Position changes by seniors Lia Manning and Angelina Campano helped pave the way for the Jaguars’ banner year.
“We moved Lia from forward to center midfield,” Vozar said. “She has really settled in nicely and become a threat as a distributor of the ball, especially from corner kicks. She has also produced as a goal-scorer.
“Lina started the season as a marking back and now plays up top. Her constant work rate, and natural quickness and speed, has allowed her to become a threat on the offensive end of the field.”
The Jaguars’ leading offensive threat is sophomore midfielder Dalaney Ranallo, with 13 goals and 12 assists.
Manning has accounted for a team-high 19 assists, to go along with her nine goals; while junior Bella Sestito and freshman Ava Lutz have 12 and nine goals, respectively.
“My coaches felt the need to switch my position from a striker to a center midfielder to utilize my skill more in the middle of the field,” said Manning, a Big Jag Little Cub member at TJ. “I’d like to thank my team for putting me in the position to do as well as I have. We have trained hard and played well as team. At times we lost focus, but we always find a way to pull it together. Our endurance is above any team that we play; we always out-work our opponent.”
Manning, who owns a 3.5 GPA, has been playing soccer since she was 3 and plans to continue her career at IUP, where she will study business.
Campano plans to major in business management in college to fulfill a career as a cosmetologist. She has a 3.7 GPA and, like Manning, has been playing soccer since her toddler days.
“I never wanted to do anything else,” Campano said, “but I do ride horses on the side when I have free time.”
A member of student council at TJ, Campano recently switched positions from defender to forward to help create more movement in the Jaguars’ offensive zone. She ended up with seven regular-season goals.
“Our season is going great,” she said. “Our team’s performance, in my eyes, has been perfect. We have a lot of talented girls this year, and I’m so happy with how close our group is. Yes, we have our ups and downs, but we always know how to recover from anything this season throws at us. Our defense is really strong, and very good at working off the ball up.”
Senior Angelica Campano, sophomores Mia Maksin and Julia Saltzman, junior Reagan Eckenrod, and freshman Emily Kane rounded out the TJ goal-scoring this season. TJ outscored the opposition 67-27, and is averaging 3.7 goals per game.
The Jaguars have been sparked defensively by the goalkeeping tandem of sophomore Bailey Keck and freshman Maddison Sippey. Both play Cup soccer — Keck for Pittsburgh Football Club and Sippey for Beadling. The TJ goalies posted eight shutouts, and allowed just one goal in six other games.
The Jaguars, with 10 returning starters from last year, jumped out to a 4-0 record and won 10 of their first 11 games. The TJ girls will take a four-game winning streak into the WPIAL playoffs, scheduled to commence Monday.
Along with South Park, Chartiers Valley and Thomas Jefferson, leading contenders in Class 3A include Moon, Mars, Elizabeth Forward and Montour.
TJ will play Monday on the road at 8 p.m. against Elizabeth Forward (11-5), the Section 2 champion. The Jaguars clipped EF, 4-1, in their regular-season finale.
“As a coach, I try to not get so hung up on results,” said Vozar, who is in his first year as TJ’s coach. “The focus of our team has always been on possession, proper marking, basic fundamentals and focused training sessions.
“That being said, if we can continue to improve I believe that we can compete and have success against any team we face in the playoffs. We are looking forward to the playoffs, and hopefully can make a deep run.”
The Jaguars won three of their last four section games to climb into second place in the standings.
“If we continue to stay focused and play hard, we have the ability to make it to the finals and contest for the WPIAL championship,” Manning said. “I’d like to thank my coaches, teammates and family for supporting me throughout my soccer career, and always believing in me.”
Angelina Campano has taken a conservative approach to the playoffs.
“I think we need to take it game by game and go from there,” she said. “If all 11 of us are on the field and performing at 110 percent, I feel we can do big things. I feel very lucky and privileged to be a part of such an amazing group of girls and coaches.”
Ranallo and the Campano twins are TJ’s co-captains.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.