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Lancers coach embraces challenge of new season

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 1:01 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Deer Lakes basketball player Jess Philistine controls the ball during practice on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.

After a great run with teams that compiled a 58-13 record over the past three seasons, Deer Lakes girls basketball coach Dana Petruska is looking at a major challenge with so many new faces wearing the green and gold.

Graduated from last year's team are Becca Babincak, the Valley News Dispatch Female Athlete of the Year, Nichole and Danielle Kearns and forward Hope Schreiber.

Deer Lakes had made the WPIAL playoffs five of the past six seasons.

Despite just one senior on this year's squad and returnees who were role players last year, Petruska relishes the task.

“This year, because we are so young, it's definitely a challenge,” Petruska said. “But I'm excited for it. It's a great group. Just like the kids who graduated, every year there's a lot of different personalities and different abilities. We know we have our work cut out for us.”

Among the returning players is Christina Grzybek, the lone Lancers senior. Sophomore Jessica Philistine and junior Kristen Stanko saw some time as reserves last year when the Lancers went 20-4 overall, 8-2 in Section 1-AA play.

Deer Lakes is hoping for a large contribution from 5-foot-10 sophomore Mackenzie Kacsur, who was injured much of last season.

“Hopefully, we can be competitive, that's all we ask of them,” said Petruska, starting her 26th season as head coach.

“I just love the game,” Petruska said of her longevity. “You've got to be a special person to play a game like basketball. When I was in high school I was recruited to play volleyball and basketball. I chose basketball because it's a harder game to play.”

Even coaching on game nights is a challenge.

“Preparation is important because you rarely have a stoppage of play,” the Deer Lakes graduate said. “In volleyball, after every point you can make an adjustment. In softball, after every out you can make an adjustment; in basketball, you can't make adjustments.”

While considerable playing time is available with so many players graduated and several who decided to concentrate on softball, Petruska won't just issue playing time randomly.

“I always say there's a lot of life lessons learned playing high school sports,” she said. “I hope these girls understand that there are opportunities, but it's not going to be handed to them.”

Petruska's son, David, will be back as an assistant coach.

Despite the lack of upperclassmen and 12 players in the overall program, Deer Lakes will field a junior varsity team.

“Thin in numbers, but we'll play a JV schedule because it's important these players get experience,” Petruska said. “Our goal is to get better every day.”

The Lancers begin the season against Knoch on Dec. 6 at the Dynamo Tip-off Tournament in Springdale.

Deer Lakes will start section play Dec. 19 by playing host to Ford City.

The Lancers will defend their Spartan Holiday Tournament title at St. Joseph High School in late December.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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