Anna Leonard and one of her daughters have joked that they might want to consider putting up “Wanted” posters in the hallways of Jeannette High School in order to attract more students to join the girls basketball team.

While it’s unknown if that proposal will eventually come to fruition, one thing has become readily apparent: If you’ve ever wanted to see a team come together as one as they fight through adversity while being inspired by a hungry coach, these Jayhawks might be the poster children.

Jeannette isn’t the only WPIAL girls team struggling with roster numbers, but the Jayhawks might be the most extreme case. They dressed only five players each of their first three games, playing the final 5½ minutes of one of them with only three players after two fouled out. They then had two games postponed last week because they weren’t going to be able to even dress five due to a player being sick.

Of playing with only three girls in a 27-24 loss at Northgate, Jeannette senior guard Makenna Craft said, “I can’t even describe it because I just never thought it could be like that — three girls on the court.” 

Craft is part of what is a unique collection of talent. A longtime soccer player, Craft is playing basketball for the first time this season after deciding she “wanted to be part of something special.” Two of Jeannette’s players are freshmen. One of those ninth graders, point guard Adriana Allison, is Leonard’s daughter, as is senior guard-forward Venicia Vignoli. And then there’s Mary Jones, a junior forward who has worked hard to drown out the noise of occasionally being body-shamed by spectators.

“Something that is so underestimated in any sport is chemistry, and these girls lift each other up,” Leonard said. “They jell so well together, and they never give up. They just always fight to the last second, which I want to see because I always coach to the last second.”

Leonard had previously referred to her group as the “Fab 5,” but that moniker changed to “Super 6” this week with the addition of sophomore guard Navarah Smith. Smith made her high school debut Monday and scored a game-high 13 points in Jeannette’s 38-24 win at Carlynton. The Jayhawks played with five girls again Wednesday (Craft missed the game due to performing in a band concert) and cruised to a 42-10 win against the same Northgate team that edged them two weeks earlier. The victory improved the Jayhawks to 3-2 on the season, surpassing their win total from last season when they finished 2-20.

When Leonard, a 2003 Mohawk graduate, took the Jeannette job prior to last season, she said she knew what she was diving into. With small rosters, Jeannette had gone 0-19 the previous two seasons and entered Leonard’s first season riding a 41-game losing streak. That run of futility eventually ended at 51 games when the Jayhawks beat WPIAL newcomer Hillel Academy, a team the Jayhawks defeated once again in their second meeting.

Leonard, whose previous coaching experience consisted primarily at the youth and AAU levels, witnessed Jeannette’s challenges firsthand when she once watched the Jayhawks play while she was an assistant coach at West Mifflin a few seasons back.

“I could feel there was a lot of heart, and I felt like if I was given the opportunity, I could be impactful,” said Leonard, 39, whose nickname is “Hoopz.” “I could tell they were really hungry to win but just couldn’t get the job done.”

Anna Leonard is making a big impact in her second season as Jeannette’s coach. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The 2023-24 Jayhawks, however, are getting the job done despite the size of their roster. In addition to Craft, Allison, Vignoli, Jones and Smith, the team also features freshman forward Karmen Kistner. Against a Carlynton team that entered the game with a 3-3 record after qualifying for the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs last season, Class 1A Jeannette produced an inspiring performance in Monday’s win. The Jayhawks were particularly strong on the defensive end, holding Carlynton scoreless for the entire second quarter and limiting the Cougars to 9-of-40 shooting (22%) in the game.

Of course, actually having a substitute to sometimes get a breather was a breath of fresh air, too.

“It was nice to be able to get in and out of the game, and I think it made the plays move a lot faster,” said Vignoli, who plans on playing basketball in college.

The luxury of having a sixth player definitely wasn’t on the menu in the loss against Northgate in which Jeannette finished with three players. The Jayhawks held a slim lead before Vignoli was whistled for her fifth foul with about six minutes left.

Said Vignoli, “I was just really disappointed in myself and told the girls I was really sorry. I just tried to cheer them on as much as I could and support my teammates from the bench.”

Shortly later, Vignoli was joined by Allison on the bench when she also fouled out. Jeannette might have seemed down and out at that point, but the Jayhawks kept fighting and never went away. Spending the final 5½ minutes playing 3-5, the Jayhawks ended up losing, but the margin of victory was amazingly only three points.

“It was an unfortunate circumstance, but at the same time, it was probably one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had both as coach and as a player,” Leonard said. “Those girls playing for 5½ minutes, holding the team to seven points while being pressed the entire time … seeing them go out and just love the game was pretty amazing.”

Jeannette’s Mary Jones, a junior forward, continues to work hard to improve her game while tuning out the naysayers. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

What has also amazed Leonard is the growth of Jones, who Leonard said she has worked with extensively since becoming coach. The tutelage hasn’t been just about basketball, though. It’s also focused on helping Jones deal with taunts from the crowd and insults in general. Leonard said that at one game this season, she could hear Jones being body-shamed from a spectator. The verbal abuse included lines like “You just need to give up” and “You’re too big to be on the court.” 

“I can’t even put into words how proud I am of Mary,” said Leonard, who works as a security officer at Thomas Jefferson High School. “I tell her, ‘You’re out there doing something a lot of people would be scared to do if they were in your position. Your teammates are proud of you. The rest is just noise.’ Kids can be cruel, but it’s a part of life. Everybody is imperfect, but we have to embrace ourselves and accept where we’re at.”

In turn, Jones’ confidence has risen via her play and her ability to block out naysayers. The game following the one she heard taunts, Jones responded with what Leonard called one of the best games of her career. Jones then had another Wednesday when she scored a career-high 18 points.

“She’s helped me so much,” Jones said of her coach. “She’s helped me get through a lot of things I didn’t think I’d get through.”

These Jayhawks continue to get through a lot individually and collectively, and could soon be adding a seventh player, Leonard said. 

No matter the roster size, the Jayhawks hope to continue to do what their coach asks of them — fight to the last second.

“I want them to play for me,” Leonard said. “I know I’m going to be tough, but it comes from a good place.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at