Thayer has high expectations for West Mifflin girls basketball program
By Ray Fisher
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Dan Thayer is returning home.
Thayer, head coach of the Brentwood girls' basketball program the past two years, was hired as the girls' floor boss at West Mifflin in May.
Thayer is a 1988 West Mifflin graduate.
“The assistants and I have high expectations at West Mifflin,” Thayer said. “They made the playoffs last year, and have all but one player returning. With that being said, there is (still) a lot to learn about the team.”
Thayer took over the Brentwood girls' program prior to the start of the 2011-12 season. After a 1-20 season, the Lady Spartans improved to 9-13 in 2012-13.
“My experience at Brentwood was great; the two years coaching there were very enjoyable,” Thayer said. “The team struggled the first year, but really made great strides last season. The players had a great attitude, and were really receptive to coaching.
“I would look for more progress at Brentwood next season and think they would contend for a playoff spot.”
Thayer is employed as a math teacher in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District. He was head coach of the Baldwin girls' basketball team from 2005 to 11.
Back in 2005-06, Thayer took over as head coach of a downtrodden Baldwin basketball program. The Lady Highlanders ended up 2-22 overall that season.
Four years later, Baldwin advanced to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game and the PIAA quarterfinal round.
Following that initial season at Baldwin, Thayer guided the Lady Highlanders to a 6-18 overall slate in 2006-07. The program turned the corner in 2007-08, improving to 15-8, 17-8 and 22-6 over the next three years.
The Lady Highlanders, who finished 17-6 in Thayer's final year at the helm in 2010-11, went to the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs three times and the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs twice under his direction.
He went 77-60 in six years at Baldwin, including an 8-5 postseason mark. Baldwin opened his job a year after the girls' team finished as the Class AAAA runner-up.
“I enjoyed my time working with the players at Baldwin,” Thayer said, “but I'm now focused on working with the athletes at West Mifflin.”
Thayer was hired as head coach of the Brentwood girls' basketball program in early November of 2011.
His assignment mirrored what he faced as Baldwin's rookie head coach seven years before that— to revamp a once-proud local girls' basketball program.
Thayer faces a new challenge at West Mifflin, and that is to return the Lady Titans to WPIAL basketball prominence.
Over the past decade, the West Mifflin girls' team has advanced to the WPIAL playoffs 10 times, and to the PIAA playoffs four times.
Former West Mifflin head coach Phil Shar, who was hired as Thomas Jefferson's girls' head coach earlier this year, built the girls' program at West Mifflin to WPIAL prominence.
West Mifflin advanced to the WPIAL finals in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
Following Shar's departure four years ago, West Mifflin has finished 12-10, 17-7, 10-10 and 10-13 overall.
“Yeah, you can say that it has been a lot different,” Thayer said. “The first couple years at Baldwin, we were real bad. It was low numbers, and it was low talent. We were really struggling. Brentwood was sort of the same thing. Those were last-minute, and obviously this is different on how it worked out.”
Thayer has assumed the reins from Rob Yeschenko, who resigned after leading the Lady Titans to a 20-23 record and two playoff victories.
West Mifflin has four of five starters returning for the 2013-14 season, including the 2012 McKeesport Daily News Player of the Year, point guard Ciara Patterson.
“There are some kids returning and in years past, they've had good numbers,” Thayer said. “If we can continue that and build up a consistent amount of kids coming through and playing, it could make it a good situation.”
Thayer, a Pitt graduate, owns a 87-93 record in eight WPIAL seasons. He coached in North Carolina before moving back to the area.
Prior to coaching and teaching on the local front, he was an assistant coach at Millbrook High School in Raleigh, N.C. for seven years, followed by a head coaching stint at Middle Creek High School for three seasons.
“My parents were a great influence,” he said. “My mom taught at West Mifflin, and my dad taught and coached football at West Mifflin North, then finished teaching at Gateway. They both had a great passion for teaching that they passed along to me and my sister.”
Thayer's middle school coach, Nick DeRosa, provided the biggest influence on his coaching career.
“Coach DeRosa was a very intense coach, but a great teacher of the game. He was extremely organized and demanding,” Thayer said. “He taught me the values of hard work and preparation. His teams weren't always the most talented, but were well prepared and always improved as the season went on.
“When I started coaching, Coach DeRosa gave me a lot of his coaching materials, and some very helpful advice. He taught me a great deal about basketball, and he fueled my desire to be a basketball coach.”
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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