The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 24, 2013

Pitt-Johnstown narrows coaching search, nears hire date

Mike Kovak

JOHNSTOWN — When word of Sasha Palmer’s departure from Pitt-Johnstown as its women’s basketball coach began to circulate, the Mountain Cats’ athletic department received dozens of applications.

According to Bob Rukavina, the UPJ men’s basketball coach who is in charge of the search committee to find a replacement for Palmer, 79 applications were received.

While it’s the job of Rukavina and the committee to narrow the list of candidates to replace Palmer, who is joining the Syracuse women’s coaching staff as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, the interest the position attracted is good news to UPJ athletic director Pat Pecora.

The longtime Pitt-Johnstown fixture also sees Palmer’s position at Syracuse as a positive for his women’s basketball program.

“It’s an attractive job, an attractive position,” Pecora said during a telephone interview on Monday. “Our women’s basketball program holds a lot of tradition and has been very successful. There’s a lot to like about this place academically and athletically. We’re competitive in a lot of sports and the program is going into the PSAC. Our campus is great and this is a great area to live and raise a family.”

Pecora would know. He’s been the wrestling coach at Pitt-Johnstown since 1976 and raised four children with his wife, Tracy.

“This is a great place to coach, whether you want to step to the next level even if we don’t want you to go or if you stay,” Pecora added. “I’ve stayed here my whole life.”

Palmer stayed at Pitt-Johnstown for six years and compiled a career record of 87-80 with five winning seasons. Her replacement will take over a youthful roster that includes Kaitlynn Fratz and Jasmine Harper, and is prepping for a move to the highly competitive PSAC.

Rukavina, who led the search committee that hired Palmer when Jodi Gault left the program after 25 successful years, conducted telephone interviews with several candidates and brought four finalists on campus to be interviewed last week.

“We’ve got it down to four and though I can’t tell you who they are, the committee met (Monday) and we’re getting close,” Rukavina said. “I spent my day going back and forth between the names and checking references. Hopefully, we’ll have this wrapped up in a couple days.”

Rukavina said urgency is of the essence as July is a critical month for college recruiting.

“We want to have somebody in place for recruiting purposes,” he added. “We’re already a little bit behind from that perspective, but July is a big month.”