Meghan Ziemianski played basketball at Burrell for four years until she graduated in 2000 and she coached varsity basketball at Highlands for four years until last season.
Now, she returns to her alma mater to coach the girls' team and the experience that has prepared her most for the challenge of this season might be her time guiding the seventh and eighth grade teams at Highlands.
Ziemianski inherits a Burrell team with no seniors and only one junior. Four sophomores and five freshmen make up the rest of the roster.
Through five games, the Buccaneers have not looked like a team with a first-year coach and a roster half filled with first-year players.
Burrell started the season 5-0 and 2-0 in Section 1-AA with wins against Elderton and Freeport.
"I think doing the seventh and eighth grade job helped me here," Ziemianski said. "Coaching seventh and eighth grade at Highlands, I did have girls who never touched a basketball before. I would take them to the classroom and teach them the game. The patience from that definitely helps here."
Patience was not required early on, the results were immediate.
The team has made a habit of winning but also has a habit of making games closer than they should be. In the championship game of the Shady Side Academy Tip-Off tournament, Burrell edged the host team, 32-31, after holding a 15-point lead. The Bucs also held a double-digit lead in a 27-25 win against Elderton
"We get these big leads and then we have a million turnovers," Ziemianski said. "But just when I think they are going to panic, they do the opposite and we never give away the lead. It is really kind of cool to watch. They are natural born winners."
Burrell also owns wins against Sewickley Academy, Springdale and Freeport.
"I never expected 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the section," Ziemianski admitted. "We had an inkling of what could happen, we knew we would be able to compete, but not in a million years did I expect this start."
Rather than dwell on the negatives of inheriting such a young team, Ziemianski is looking at the positives.
"There is no dreaded senior night where you are there for an extra hour," she joked. "Sometimes we have to take a few steps back and go back to the fundamentals but because they are so young, they are willing to learn."
One of the biggest transitions for Ziemianski is making the move to Class AA after being at Class AAA Highlands the past three seasons. The 2-3 zone defense is more prevalent in the higher classifications whereas more teams are playing man-to-man in Class AA.
"This is the first year where I have been able to play a good tight man-to-man," Ziemianski said. "I never necessarily had five girls who were as quick as the ones I have now."
No player on the team may be quicker than freshman point guard Sydney Bordonaro. She scored 26 points in her varsity debut this season and leads the team in scoring. She also has the ability to speed up the tempo of a game.
Sophomore guard Jaila Manga is the only returning starter. Sophomore guard Kelsey Oddis, sophomore forward Jessica Cercone and junior forward Jenna Ehrlich round out the starting five.
Freshman Abigail Pattock is the first forward off the bench and freshman Erika Finn is top reserve at guard.
Ziemianski has recruited her father, Mark Ziemianski, the former boys' and girls' coach at Burrell. He stopped coaching the boys after the 2009 season, but came back to be an assistant with his daughter, who he used to coach at Burrell.
The father-daughter duo has been busy teaching fundamentals but with the all-around quickness of the team and with Cercone, who is 6 feet, and Pattock, 5-10, there are two things they do not have to worry about teaching.
"We can go out and teach them the fundamentals," Meghan Ziemianski said. "But you can't teach height and you can't teach athleticism."