Mike Drahos was hired as the Pitt-Johnstown women’s basketball coach late in July, with little to no time left in the recruiting season.
The former West Liberty University assistant coach heeded the advice of other coaches. Drahos ignored the temptation to hastily sign a few recruits simply to put his own stamp on this season’s Lady Cats.
As UPJ prepares for its first PSAC home game on Saturday against Edinboro (1 p.m.), Drahos is pleased by the talent on a roster assembled by former coach Sasha Palmer, who officially left in June to accept a Syracuse assistant coaching position.
“I’m playing the hand that was dealt,” said Drahos, whose team is 1-2 after falling 96-72 at IUP on Wednesday. “None of these girls are my recruits. I was hired late, and didn’t want to take anybody just to take them.
“I got some advice from coaching mentors who said, ‘If you’re not sure, don’t take somebody.’ I said I’m going to play the hand that’s dealt this year and bring in my first recruiting class when I have a full year to recruit.”
Drahos isn’t complaining.
He has talented scorers, an inside presence and a lot of hustle in those “cards” he collected.
Sophomore guard Kayla DeCriscio averages 21 points a game and has made 18 of 33 3-point field goal attempts (.545 percent).
Junior guard Kelsey Sleighter has a 14.7 points a game average while handing out five assists a night through three games.
Sophomore Jasmine Harper, a 6-foot forward, scores 13.3 points and grabs 10 rebounds a game. The Cleveland Heights, Ohio, player was named WVIAC Freshman of the Year in 2012-13, the final season for the conference.
“We’re scoring more points than I thought we might, which is definitely a good thing,” Drahos said. “With us losing Kaitlynn Fratz from last year, and Nicole Carman being the only double-digit scorer coming back, I didn’t know if we were going to be able to put enough points on the scoreboard to be a legitimate contender.
“That’s been one good surprise for us that we’ve had some kids step up like Kayla DeCriscio. Kelsey Sleighter scored 22 points one night. We’re not anywhere near where I want to be but we’re getting there.”
Fratz, a two-time First Team All-WVIAC selection and UPJ’s leading scorer the past two seasons, transferred to California (Pa.) late during the past academic calendar year. She’s part of a Vulcans team that will face UPJ in the PSAC.
Altoona’s DeCriscio said Drahos has brought an uptempo philosophy with him.
“It’s faster paced, which is good for us because we like to run the floor. We’re a quick team,” DeCriscio said. “We’re young. We’re learning this new offense. Being ranked eighth in the PSAC (preseason poll) gives us that motivation.
“You’re faced with challenges, having a new coach, and that’s great,” she added. “We’re changing things up from what we did last year. We’re going to do what coach says. I think it will work for us.”
Seniors Rachel Johnson, Grace Hyland and Inaya Stephenson join junior forward Nicole Carman as other experienced players back from a 14-12 team that went 12-10 in the WVIAC last season.
Sophomores Leah Hansen, Olivia Rizzo and Dominique Smith also will be counted on. Redshirt freshman Jamie Tabon and true freshmen Cydney Green and Kierra Mitchell are newcomers.
“First of all we have a great group of kids. Above all they’re high character kids,” Drahos said. “As a new head coach, I was worried. To be honest I didn’t know what type of kids I’d be dealing with here. They’re all very coachable, hard-working kids. We are more talented than I thought we would be after losing Fratz. I’m pretty happy and have an optimistic outlook on what we can do as a basketball team.”