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Hempfield girls look for playoff return under new head coach

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 11:46 p.m.

The Hempfield girls basketball team is under new leadership this season.

Scott Breagle led the team to a 20-4 overall record in 2011-12, including a 10-2 mark in Section 1-AAAA, but was not retained in the offseason.

The district hired Aaron Epps, who coached Kiski Area to a 16-7 overall record last year and will look to help the Spartans advance deeper in the playoffs.

“We are trying to get over the hump in the playoffs,” Epps said. “As a team, we want to win the section and make it further in the playoffs.

“I know they bowed out early in the playoffs last year but we want to try to make it further.”

Last season, the Spartans' season ended when they fell to Upper St. Clair, 44-42, in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

The Spartans will be without the services of graduates Taylor Lubinsky, Christina Santone and Emily Nelson, who helped form one of the toughest WPIAL's defenses — the Spartans allowed the second-fewest points (38.3) in Class AAAA.

Junior Monica Burns will be the focal point of the Spartans in 2012. The guard, along with her older sister, Mary, will be looked to more of a leadership role this year. Epps gives high praise to the younger Burns, saying she is one of the best guards in the WPIAL.

Monica Burns, who averaged around 13 points, has already seen changes the new coach has tried to implement.

“Over the summer, we worked on conditioning and things we needed to work on over the summer,” Burns said. “We have had a lot of team bonding, and he brings us together as more as a team.”

Epps wants to try to play more of an up-tempo style on offense and put full-court pressure on the opposing team defensively.

“I think they have to be more disciplined offensively when it comes to playoff time,” Epps said. “In the playoffs, the game slows down. We want to work on some our weaknesses and make them our strengths.”

The Spartans will look for more of a contribution from seniors Casey Hamilton and Lea Scozio and sophomore Leah Knizer. Epps likes the makeup of his team and thinks he has the right mix of seniors to complement the younger players.

“We are a very young team. I think we have a really nice mix,” Epps said. “We have experience coming back with Mary, Monica and Lea who played a lot of significant minutes, but we also have a lot up-and-coming players.”

Junior track standout Jasmine Jones, won the WPIAL Class AAA 200-meter title in the spring, will come off the bench.

“I think we need to play with intensity every single game, and we need to keep it up every time we go out there,” Monica Burns said. “I feel we have a pretty good shot at making it further this year than previous years.”

Andrew John is a freelance writer.

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