Veteran coach brings new ideas to Derry girls program

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019 | 6:49 PM


New coach Gene Brisbane was talking to his players as the first day of girls basketball practice at Derry drew to a close.

He was laying the groundwork for a new-but-old play he calls, “Joe.” It is named after Joe Montana.

Brisbane asked if anyone knew who Montana was. Show of hands?

Silence. Only the buzz of the auxiliary gym lights greeted the inquiry.

But then, one girl sheepishly offered, “I think he was a quarterback.”

She got an atta girl. Other than that detail, the rest of the team was stumped.

Not many people at Derry know Brisbane yet, either. But it might be a good idea to look him up, too.

While he may have nothing more in common with the former Ringgold-turned-49ers quarterback than their WPIAL roots, Brisbane has been around the game and knows how to win.

What brought him back to it is the question as he embarks on a new venture at the age of 67.

“It wasn’t that I missed it,” Brisbane said. “I just felt like I still could coach at this level.”

But at Derry? It seems like an odd place for a reboot, especially for Brisbane, who lives 30 minutes away from the school.

“It will be a challenge,” the coach said. “But I think if we get everyone on the same page and we’re all pointed in the same direction, we’ll do fine.”

Brisbane coached the Hempfield girls to 327 wins, five section titles and three WPIAL semifinal trips over 20 years, the last in 2010 when he resigned.

He later became the head women’s coach at Westmoreland County Community College. There, he won 50 games and three conference titles in three seasons.

He began coaching in 1974 as an assistant to Tom Traynor with the Hempfield boys.

Brisbane, a retired teacher, also was an assistant with the Greensburg Salem boys and Jeannette’s boys head coach for two seasons.

This will be his 24th season coaching girls basketball.

“It will be easier for them to get used to me than for me to get used to each of them,” Brisbane said of his players, most of whom are seniors.

The program is seeking stability. Brisbane will be Derry’s fourth coach in as many years. Matt Regula resigned after one season.

Like the boys team, Derry returns four starters. They are seniors Hannah Wedow, Danielle Mullen and Kamryn Kelly, and 5-foot-9 junior Tiana Moracco. Wedow is a 5-7 guard, Mullen a 5-5 guard and Kelly a 5-8 forward.

“I told them, ‘Your senior year is the best year of your career,’” Brisbane said. “That is the one you’ll remember most.”

Derry only lost one senior last year in 6-1 Destiny Roberts, but she was the team’s leading scorer.

Derry went 9-11 but finished 7-7 in Section 3-3A, one game out of a playoff spot.

While height will not be a strength, Brisbane hopes the Trojans can outwork opponents.

“I need to look at the girls we have and see how we can play,” he said. “I know we’ll mix the defenses up. You won’t see the same defense for four quarters. We have some offensive sets to go against man-to-man and zone.”

While readjusting to the absence of a shot clock — WCCC played with one — Brisbane also is getting his girls acquainted with the weight room.

“They didn’t have that before,” he said. “We’ll do bench presses, squats and dead lifts. Nothing too heavy. I just want to get them stronger.”

Senior forward Sarah Aukerman, sophomore guard Emma Huber and senior guard/forward Olexei Nuttall are other players looking to make an impact.

Brisbane had just 12 players at his early workouts. Still, he hopes to bring back a junior varsity team, something Derry has not had in four years.

His assistant is Lucy Bujdos, an Indiana High School grad who played basketball and tennis at Saint Vincent.

Section 3 will take Derry on quite a tour of Western Pennsylvania. It includes Carlynton, Deer Lakes, East Allegheny, Shady Side Academy, South Allegheny, Steel Valley and Valley.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw that is the section we’re in,” Brisbane said. “You would think they would try to get teams closer together. We’ll have to make the most of it.”

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

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