Local girls basketball coaches share Connecticut connection
While watching UConn and Duke on national television, Quaker Valley junior Karen Pugh felt a bond with the top team in women's basketball.
“Our offense is very similar (to UConn),” she said, “as far as transition and passing and finding the open shot.”
How does a Western Pennsylvania high school team share traits with the most dominant women's program in college basketball?
It's no coincidence.
Quaker Valley's first-year coach, Jill Brumbaugh, played four seasons at UConn and shared her Huskies knowledge with the Quakers. As a result, the team has borrowed some ideas from the eight-time national champions.
“Whenever I watch UConn play I say, ‘Oh, now I see what she's talking about,' ” said Pugh, who watches her coach's alma mater whenever she can.
“She texts us every time UConn plays. She texts us the channel, the time and who they're playing. And she tells us what to watch — the little details.”
The next day, the team comes to practice ready to discuss.
“She'll point out a player and say, ‘Did you see how they did this last night?' ” Pugh said.
Yet UConn's success has influence another WPIAL team as well. First-year Chartiers Valley coach Ashley Battle also played for UConn.
Just days apart in May and June, two WPIAL schools hired girls basketball coaches with ties to Storrs, Conn.
The coaches aren't acquaintances; 13 years separated their playing careers. But Brumbaugh was a passionate season-ticket holder in 2003-04, when Battle won one of her three national championships.
“She was pretty spectacular,” said Brumbaugh, who visited New Orleans for the Final Four.
Neither has extensive coaching experience, but both can draw from their years with Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma.
Brumbaugh, a Claysburg native, was a four-year starter at UConn from 1984-88. She was recruited there one year before Auriemma was hired, but became a key player during his first few seasons. A team captain in 1987-88, Brumbaugh helped lay the foundation for what UConn became.
“We were walking across the gym, Geno put his arm around me and said: ‘Someday we're going to fill this place,' ” Brumbaugh said. “I'm thinking, you're crazy.”
UConn won its first national title in 1995. Brumbaugh wants to foster a similar attitude at Quaker Valley.
“You have to have a vision for where you want your program to go,” she said, “and then stick with it through the ups and downs.”
Battle, a North Side native who attended high school at Linsly School in Wheeling, W.Va., played professionally in the WNBA and Europe. She won three national championships at UConn and was Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2002-03.
“There are a lot of things we do that I did at Connecticut,” said Battle, who is known to wear a UConn shirt to practice. “I was there for five years. There are some things that are just ingrained in your head. There's a basketball drill for everything.”
Brumbaugh, a former guard, has the seventh-most assists in UConn history. Battle, a forward, ranks 14th in steals. So, as would be expected, both want well-rounded players.
“We're trying to go back to the fundamentals,” Brumbaugh said.
And when your coach has “defensive player of the year” among her accomplishments, playing defense isn't optional.
“They know it's very important for me,” Battle said.
It was defense that earned her playing time as a college freshman.
“When I came into Connecticut, they were coming off a national championship in 2000 with everybody coming back,” Battle said. “And we had the No. 1 recruiting class coming in that next season (which included Diana Taurasi). Everybody can score, so what are you going to do to make yourself stand out? I knew I could play defense, so that's what I did.”
Not too far removed from their playing days, both remain active at practice; they always win at horse. Battle was a 1,000-point scorer at UConn, a list that has just 34 names. Both were team leaders in free-throw shooting percentage.
“She still has it,” Pugh said of Brumbaugh. “She challenges us to games and no one can beat her. She still has that touch. She doesn't miss.”
Battle competes with her players, but also challenges assistant coach Julius Page, a former Pitt star. While coaching, Battle said she doesn't boast about her UConn or WNBA experience, but Page certainly does.
“If someone (isn't listening), he'll say, ‘Do you know where she played?' ” Battle said with a laugh.
Before her hire, Battle coached at basketball camps but never had her own team. She became familiar with Chartiers Valley through pickup games at the school, where boys coach Tim McConnell was among the regulars.
Before accepting the Quaker Valley job, Brumbaugh coached three seasons at her high school alma mater, Claysburg-Kimmel. She traded Florida for Blair County when her niece's team needed a coach. Now, Brumbaugh, who sells health insurance, lives in Center Township.
Despite little coaching experience, their playing careers earned them instant credibility.
“We're so lucky to have her as a coach,” said Pugh, a shooting guard. “She's so energetic at every practice. I could definitely see she was a player, because she's always so passionate about the game.”