Franklin Regional girls basketball team’s young roster to sport new look on defense

Wednesday, November 24, 2021 | 2:10 PM

Bernie Pucka used to be an assistant football coach at Franklin Regional, but now he is the school’s new girls basketball coach.

He may still have some football tendencies as he settles into his new surroundings.

“I’m the defensive coordinator and (assistant) Krista Pietropola is the offensive coordinator,” Pucka said. “That is how we’re going into the season. You’ll have to ask her about our offense. I know I want to be creative with our defense.”

Pucka, who coached the Plum girls for seven years — he resigned in 2014 — before returning there as an assistant last year, thinks the youthful Panthers will be able to play multiple defenses with multiple substitutions.

If all goes as planned, defense will kick-start the offense.

“That’s the hope,” Pucka said. “We need those transition points.”

There are no seniors on the roster, but the coach sees talent and vibrancy in a mostly inexperienced group that finished 5-10 last season (1-8 in Section 4).

“I want to play mind games on defense,” Pucka said. “I don’t want any of our opponents to get comfortable in anything we’re in.”

In Pucka’s last year at Plum, where he coached Pietropola who played at Youngstown State and Slippery Rock, the Mustangs were a matchup zone team because of their length.

Franklin Regional will have different options.

Man-to-man, press, zone, even “junk” defenses are not out of the realm of possibility, Pucka said.

He learns more about his team each day.

“Everyone has had an opportunity to play (in the summer),” Pucka said. “We wanted to see who had what. Things are rapidly changing as we have tryouts and such. We’re starting to put lineups together.”

Pucka said his experience so far has been positive as the team looks to get back to the WPIAL Class 5A postseason.

He replaced Anthony Kobus, who resigned after three seasons with a 28-33 record. Last season ended with a loss to Armstrong in the preliminary round of the playoffs, 59-41.

“This group brings heart, energy, enthusiasm. … They’re scrappy,” Pucka said. “The will to win is there. To be around these girls daily is such a pleasure. All the intangibles you could want in a group are there.”

Junior Sarah Penrod was a starter last year, while junior Brooke Schirmer also logged varsity minutes.

Junior Alexa Patberg played minimally last season but should join those classmates as regulars in the lineup.

Sophomore Sophia Reitz, another returning starter, should once again play a key role, while sophomore Angelina Brush could replace her sister, Maria Brush (Seton Hill) at point guard.

Freshman Toryn Fulton, the tallest girl on the team at close to 6-foot, and sophomore Gabrielle Keough will provide size inside.

Another freshman to watch is Anna Novelli.

Scoring could come from Penrod and Schirmer, while junior Avery Musto shows promise as a shooter.

Youth is producing competitive energy and Pucka only sees it as a positive.

“They’re like sponges,” said Pucka, who went 84-76 and led Plum to five playoff appearances. He still teaches at Plum.

“Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”

Franklin Regional girls at a glance

Coach: Bernie Pucka

Last year’s record: 5-10 (1-8 Section 4-5A)

Returning starters: Sarah Penrod (Jr., G), Sophia Reitz (So., G/F)

Top newcomers: Angelina Brush (So., G), Toryn Fulton (Fr., F), Alexa Patberg (Jr., G), Brooke Schirmer (Jr., G)

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .


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