Franklin Regional girls again ready to ramp up the pace
The Franklin Regional girls basketball team will face a big challenge in many of its section games this season — literally.
With tall interior players on teams like Fox Chapel, Gateway and Plum, Franklin Regional will find itself at a size disadvantage against those teams.
The Panthers, as usual, will counter with their own weapons: a high-pressure defense and a high amount of 3-point shooting.
“A lot of teams put their big size in front of us and make us deal with it,” Franklin Regional coach Rick Klimchock said. “Part of (our style) is trying to create a lot of up-tempo so we don't have to face all those tough zones possession after possession and find ways to create a good shot. You can't get an offensive rebound. When you play slow, you play into their hands.”
Franklin Regional's up-tempo attack has led to plenty of success the past two seasons. The Panthers qualified for the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs for the second straight season in 2012-13, beating Albert Gallatin in the preliminary round before losing to Mt. Lebanon in the first round.
But four seniors graduated from last season's team, including three — Erin Difalco, Dana Eastman and Maggie Kimmich — who are playing basketball in college this season. Kimmich led the team in scoring with 14 points per game.
Four-year starter Baylee Buleca, a 6-foot forward, returns to give Franklin Regional a post presence of its own. Buleca averaged 9.3 ppg last season as she made her way back from a knee injury.
“She's been starting since the first day of her freshman year, so she's been a really, really important cornerstone for us,” Klimchock said. “She looks really good. I think she's as healthy as she's been, and we're looking for great things out of her.”
Fellow seniors Mary Komandt and Natalie Tedesco will supplement Buleca's on-floor leadership. Komandt led the Panthers in assists and steals last season, and Klimchock said he would be looking for more scoring from her this season. Klimchock said Tedesco, a 5-foot-1 guard, is a “sparkplug” for the team and will also be expected to contribute this season.
Because of his team's up-tempo style, Klimchock said depth is also important.
“We think we have as good of depth this year as we've had,” he said. “We had really good depth two years ago when we went 15-8, and we think this year our depth is as good as that team or better.”
Players who are expected to contribute this season include juniors Dana Altman, Hannah Bursic, Brooke Conroy, Liz Donahoe, Gillian Kane, Maddie Pulaski, Sarah Stephens and Nikki Wesolowski, sophomore Juliana Landis and freshmen Kassidy Hubert and Paige Verona.
“We're going to use just about all those girls every game in some capacity,” Klimchock said. We use a lot of bodies, we keep coming after you and that's how we try to play.”
While Franklin Regional will attempt a lot of 3-point shots this season, Klimchock said his team also should have a good interior presence with forwards like Buleca, Conroy, Stephens, Verona and Wesolowski.
Along with Fox Chapel, Gateway and Plum, Franklin Regional will compete with Penn Hills, Woodland Hills and McKeesport for one of four playoff bids out of Section 2-AAAA.
The Panthers will begin the regular season with the Franklin Regional Tip-Off Tournament Dec. 6 and 7 at Franklin Regional High School. They will play road games against nonsection opponents Upper St. Clair (Dec. 9) and Mars (Dec. 16) before section play begins Dec. 17 against Fox Chapel.
“The only goal I've ever had is to get into the playoffs and make a run,” Klimchock said. “That's all my preaching with teams I've had. Sometimes we weren't even section champs, (but) we were able to make good runs in the playoffs. We want that ticket in the playoffs.”