Thomas Jefferson's girls' soccer team gearing for a WPIAL playoff spot

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Thomas Jefferson's girls' soccer team narrowly missed making the WPIAL playoffs last season.

Though it was a disappointment for first-year head coach Melissa Allan and the Lady Jaguars, Allan knew it would take more than one season to turn the program around.

The local team won seven games in a row at the end of the 2012 regular season, finishing 10-7-1 — a big improvement from the 5-13 record from the previous year.

But Allan knew it would still take time to build winning ways and a competitive mentality among her players.

“They came to camp fit and ready to play. I think that shows they are buying into the new system,” Allan said.

“It's not about a team, it's about a program. The best 11 girls are going to be out there. That competitive attitude is new to them, We shift people around depending on formations. Most of the girls play multiple positions. That's the kind of player I'm trying to develop.”

Senior Tori Cotter returns in goal and is one of the team's four co-captains. According to Allan, Cotter sees the field well and provides strong a presence in the net.

“She knows the game and is a true leader,” Allan said. “Last year, she made some heroic saves for us.”

Senior Tatum Fabian plays offense for the Lady Jaguars and is a co-captain.

“Tatum is a versatile player. She is so good with the ball at her feet,” Allan said. “We can put her anywhere and she'll do a tremendous job.”

Alexis Yanief, also a senior, is in great shape and returns as one of the Lady Jaguars' sharp-shooters on offense.

“She's a great all-around athlete,” Allan said. “We look to her to put the ball in the back of the net.”

Katie Sullivan, a senior outside backer, is another team co-captain. According to her head coach, Sullivan is a dependable contributor at any position.

“I would take 100 of her,” Allan said.

Sophomore Hannah Wardlaw is a key member of the Lady Jaguars' defense.

“She's a warrior. She's not afraid to get in for a tackle,” Allan said. “She's a huge asset in the back for us.”

The team's fourth co-captain, junior Emma Hardwick, is the type of player who leads by example.

“She's very reliable, and a good ball distributor,” Allan said.

Two other leading contributors this year include sophomore Veronica Napolitano and freshman Tara Sullivan. According to Allan, Napolitano is a dangerous offensive player/shooter, and Sullivan will make an immediate impact on the team.

“The way (Napolitano) eludes defenders makes it fun to watch her play,” Allan said.

Allan believes the teams to beat in Section 4-AA are Elizabeth Forward, South Park and Belle Vernon.

“There's no one we can overlook,” she said. “Every game is just as important as the one before it,”

TJ played at Greensburg Central Catholic earlier this week, and met Belle Vernon in its home and section opener.

The Lady Jaguars will travel to Steel Valley tonight, Thursday, and will visit Elizabeth Forward on Monday.

“We want a winning season, and we want to make the playoffs,” Allan said. “The girls are focused and working hard.

“If they play as hard as I think they can, I think we can surprise some people.”

Jennifer Goga is a freelance writer.

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