Penn Hills girls basketball eager to get back on course

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Sunday, November 27, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Hannah Pugliese doesn’t need to dig into the history books to know what the tradition of the Penn Hills girls basketball program means. All she has to do is talk to volunteer assistant coaches Desiree Oliver and Jade Ely, who have been helping the team out in the preseason.

Both Oliver (UMass/Temple) and Ely (Cleveland State) played at the NCAA Division I level. They also helped Penn Hills make a surprise run to the 2015 WPIAL Class 4A title game where the Indians lost to Norwin.

“It means a lot having Coach Desi come back this year and help coach,” Pugliese said. “She said they didn’t have the most talented teams. They were able to work hard and exceed their expectations.”

Trying to set a bar is on the mind of Pugliese, who was a part of one of the most difficult seasons in program history last year. Penn Hills, which has eight WPIAL championships to its name, finished 1-18 and 0-12 in section play.

Hamstrung by a roster hurt by injury and low participation, the Indians didn’t have the depth to keep up. When Penn Hills opens this season Dec. 2 against McKeesport at the North Allegheny Tip-Off Tournament, the Indians are eager to get back on the right course.

“We worked on conditioning a lot in the offseason,” Pugliese said. “I think we are better conditioned than we were last year.”

Penn Hills coach Robert Cash said the program hopes to have 15 to 20 girls on the team this year.

“We knew last year was going to be tough because we only had one senior and we were inexperienced,” Cash said. “We went out this last summer because we wanted to work hard and not forget what last season was like. We wanted to be collectively better.”

Pugliese, who is a junior guard that plays on the AAU circuit, is one of three returning players who cut their teeth on the grind of last season. Junior guard/forward Egypt Coleman, who is 5-foot-11, and Cara Crawford, a 5-10 sophomore forward, will both provide the Indians with versatility underneath.

“Hannah can shoot and handle the ball well,” Cash said. “Egypt Coleman made a lot of improvements over the summer. She is 5-11 and plays big but can also step out and shoot as well.”

Penn Hills will be in Section 1-5A this year along with Franklin Regional, Gateway, Indiana, Kiski Area, Plum and Woodland Hills. The Indians are hoping another year of experience, coupled with some fresh blood in the program, will restore the program’s tradition.

“Hearing that record from last year has stuck in my brain,” Pugliese said. “It will help make us work harder.”

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