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Shar takes over Thomas Jefferson girls' basketball program

| Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 10:36 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Thomas Jefferson's Alexis Yanief practices layups during practice Nov. 29, 2013.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Thomas Jefferson's Haley Kutscher works on free throw shooting during practice on November 29, 2013.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Thomas Jefferson's Alexis Newbill works out during practice on November 29, 2013.

Thomas Jefferson coach Phil Shar undoubtedly is anxious to get the 2013-14 season started.

Shar, hired last spring to replace interim coach Dom DiMattia, is looking to bring his winning ways to the Thomas Jefferson girls program.

He was floor boss of the West Mifflin girls basketball program for 20 years, and brings a 398-159 overall record into the 2013-14 season.

“We plan on having a good year,” Shar said. “I'm very pleased with these young ladies. They've worked so hard; it's unbelievable. Whatever they accomplish this year they will have earned because of their great work ethic.”

The Lady Jaguars, who open their season Friday against defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion Bethel Park in the Bethel Park tip-off tournament, won back-to-back section titles in 2009-10.

But they won only 12 of 44 games over the past two seasons, including a 9-13 mark last year.

Shar, a retired math teacher, experienced only one losing season at West Mifflin.

He guided the Lady Titans to consecutive WPIAL Class AAA championship game-appearances in 2007-08 and 2008-09, finishing with 26-5 and 20-8 overall records. He was 17-7 in his final season at West Mifflin in 2010-11.

Shar has inherited what appears to be a wealth of talent on this year's squad.

There were only two seniors on last year's team, meaning most of the players from last year's roster are back this season.

The Lady Jaguars will be led by senior guard Alexis Yanief, a three-year letterwinner and one of the top players in the WPIAL Class AAA division.

Yanief was the team leader in scoring, assists, steals and blocks last season.

“Lexi's very good,” Shar said. “The biggest difference for her is last year Lexi had to score all the points. This year, she's going to score a lot of points, but we're going to surround her with more people who can also score, which should make her senior year a lot more enjoyable.”

Following the Bethel Park tournament, the TJ girls will open their home schedule Monday against Steel Valley in a nonsection matchup.

Sara Mackulin, a junior guard, has laid the groundwork for a “Tip-off for the Cure” white-out fund-raiser to be held during the game to help promote breast cancer awareness.

The fund-raiser also will extend into Tuesday, when the Thomas Jefferson boys team plays South Park at home.

T-shirts and bracelets will be sold at each game, with proceeds going to the Susan Komen Foundation. Also, at the girls game, proceeds from the concession stand and 50-50 raffle will be donated to the orgranization.

Thomas Jefferson's girls team ended up in fifth place in Section 4-AAA a 5-7 mark last season, behind Elizabeth Forward, the defending section champion. Belle Vernon, West Mifflin and Ringgold.

“Our section is really tough,” Shar said. “West Mifflin is talented, and EF is really talented.”

Yanief will be joined in the starting lineup by some combination of the following players — juniors Paige Risley, a 5-4 point guard; and Courtney Zoglmann, a 5-8 guard/forward; senior Haley Kutscher, a 5-6 guard/forward; and freshmen Haley Zoglmann, a 5-8 forward; and Lexi Zovko, a 5-10 forward.

Yanief, Risley and Courtney Zoglmann are returning starters.

Other team members include Mackulin, senior guard Alexis Newbill, junior forward Gracie Duda; plus sophomores Renee Swallow and Caroline Willig, at guard; Megan Fitzgerald, a guard/forward; and Shayla Scheidter, at forward.

“I have faith in these girls,” Shar said. “They come to the gym with smiles on their faces, and they work hard every day.

“We're building a heckuva foundation, and I'm looking forward to the next few years.”

Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or rfisher@tribweb.com.

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