Kiski Area girls raring to go after snapping playoff drought

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Monday, November 20, 2023 | 9:07 PM


Abbie Johns has her plans set for next season as the Kiski Area senior recently signed a National Letter of Intent to join the women’s basketball team at Shippensburg.

A Section 1-5A first-team all-star and Valley News Dispatch first-team selection, Johns is one of four starters back from a team that took part in the WPIAL playoffs. She said her goal and the goal of her teammates is to take that next step and advance further in the postseason.

“The team is coming along pretty well,” said Johns, who averaged a team-best 14.9 points last season.

“With our success last year and making it to the playoffs, we’re hoping that this year we’ll do even better and do more than just make the playoffs. A big goal is to get back there and win a game and see how far we can go.”

Lexi Colaianni, a second-team all-conference guard who now plays at Penn State-Altoona, was lost to graduation, but Johns and fellow returning starters Rikiya Garcia-Broaden, a junior forward; Cora Coleman, a senior guard; and Gia DeVito, a sophomore forward, are ready to form the core of this year’s team.

A majority of the team members also participated in a fall sport, and the full team was together for about a week getting additional work in before the start of official preseason practices last Friday.

“It was a pretty productive offseason overall,” Johns said. “We did a lot of skill work in the open gyms before (the start of preseason practices) to get back into the swing of things. It got everyone excited to start the season. I know I am pretty excited to have the chance to make this last season my best. It is my last varsity season at Kiski, and I want to go out with a bang with my other senior friends. We’ve been together since third or fourth grade.”

Coach Dave Williamson said with Johns leading the way and the other experienced players back in the lineup, things are shaping up nicely in the new season.

Kiski Area finished last year 9-13 overall, in fourth place in Section 1, and in the WPIALs tournament for the first time since 2012.

“The motto for the girls this year is fourth place isn’t good enough,” Williamson said. “We have higher expectations. Last year, we got that monkey off our back of not making the playoffs for a while. This year, we’re looking to compete for the section, get a higher seed in the playoffs and win a playoff game. We would love to qualify for the state tournament.”

A wild finish to the section schedule last year put Kiski Area in a three-way tie for third with Plum and Penn Hills behind champion Indiana and runner-up Woodland Hills.

“Again, I definitely see the section as one we can compete in at the top,” Williamson said. “Every team in the section is well-coached and hungry to be at the top, too. Predictions are fun to make, but the main thing is getting it done on the court.”

Williamson said that while it is early into the preseason practices, he likes what he sees in terms of length, athleticism, speed, and determination from the players, including the seniors.

“You can see it in the eyes of our leaders in practice,” Williamson said. “They are focused. I like the makeup of our team. We have a nice mix of talent who can do different things well. I am really looking forward to what we are able to accomplish in the gym before Dec. 1 rolls around.”

Williamson said he is looking forward to how DeVito builds on her first varsity season and that new feeling of starting games.

“She gave us a ton of energy, and she had a knack for getting deflections on defense,” he said. “She is one of those payers where at any time, she can change the course of a game. It took her some time to break through, but once she did, she held onto it. She’s ready to have an even bigger impact this year.”

Garcia-Broaden finished last year averaging 6.2 points and five rebounds, and Coleman averaged 4.5 points, four rebounds, and 2.7 assists.

Williamson said the leading reserve last year, senior forward Zoe Holm, is ready to take the next step.

“Zoe has been performing really well in practice, but there are some young players who are hungry and are fighting to get on the court,” Williamson said. “She didn’t come in expecting to be handed a starting spot. She knows she has to put in the work, and she is looking really good.”

Williamson said the task right now is to assess how deep the rotation can be.

“There is definitely good competition in practices,” Williamson said.

The Cavaliers will test where they stand with a scrimmage at 10 a.m. Saturday at Hampton and one next Monday at home with Greensburg Salem.

Kiski opens its season against Butler at the Armstrong Tip-Off on Dec. 1.

The host River Hawks and Knoch also will be there.

“We’re looking forward to the tournament,” Williamson said. “It will be a good test to see where we are. Our sights are on Butler and nothing else.”

Kiski Area girls at a glance

Coach: Dave Williamson (Second year)

Last year’s record: (9-13 overall, 6-6 Section 1-5A)

Starters lost: Lexi Colaianni (Guard).

Returning starters: Abbie Johns (Sr., G), Gia DeVito (Soph., F), Rikiya Garcia-Broaden (Jr., F), Cora Coleman (Sr., G)

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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