Thomas takes over as Lady Spartans' head coach

| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Brentwood Spartans girls' basketball team will head in a new direction next season with a familiar face roaming the bench.

Former assistant Rachel Thomas will assume the reigns in place of former head coach Dan Thayer, who has been hired as floor boss of the West Mifflin girls' basketball program.

“I am very excited about this opportunity,” said Thomas, who was hired as head coach last week. “I believe in these girls. I'm a lifelong resident and a graduate of Brentwood.

“I'd love to bring this program to be competitive within our section.”

Last season, the Lady Spartans finished 2-10 in Section 4-AA, just ahead of winless Wilkinsburg, but posted a 9-13 overall record.

Under Thomas' tutelage, the Brentwood girls will build on the fundamentals they have learned over the years, and will rely on upperclassmen and several underclassmen who saw significant playing time as freshmen.

“We're going to focus on the core things we did last year,” Thomas said. “We have to get back to the fundamentals with these girls.

“They have a lot of talent, but have to build their confidence.”

Thomas will look to seniors Laura McGowan and Sydney Bauer, along with sophomore Alicia Folino, to be her eyes, ears and voice in the locker room.

Their roles are expected to replace those lost from graduated seniors Amanda Kramer and Megan Gildea.

“Those three are the easiest kids to coach,” said Thomas of McGowan, Bauer and Folino. “Whatever you ask from them, they do; and do without a complaint. As a younger kid coming up, if you see a senior doing what the coach says, that is priceless.”

Having spent the past two seasons as an assistant at Brentwood should make the transition to head coach a bit easier for Thomas.

The current crop of players knows what to expect from her, and she said she knows which buttons to push to get the most from her players.

“It's already been seamless,” Thomas said of the transition. “I'm the head coach of the summer league (team), and it's like nothing changed. I coached them as an assistant coach, and we'll finish it up as the head coach.”

Thomas also was hired as the Brentwood girls' seventh- and eighth-grade assistant basketball coach last week.

“I plan to stay involved with the younger teams,” Thomas said. “To go to some of those practices and start showing them some of the things we do at the high school was valuable, and will make the learning curve less.

“The more they know about our high school team, the better off I think we are.”

As is the case with any team, there will be growing pains, along with some bumps, along the way.

Thomas is confident with the Lady Spartans' talent pool and basketball experience, and believes the WPIAL playoffs no longer are a mirage around Brentwood.

“I truly believe these girls can be playoff contenders this year,” she said. “With the core that we have, and the freshmen we have coming up ... it's a good group. They want to be successful, and they want to learn.

“I believe we can finish in the middle of our section and be a playoff contender.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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