Sophomore guard Mankins soaring for Greensburg Salem girls basketball

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Wednesday, December 25, 2019 | 8:56 PM


Greensburg Salem’s Abby Mankins has developed into a star for the Golden Lions.

Still, the 5-foot-10 sophomore guard and the rest of her team know there’s plenty of room for everyone to keep growing.

Mankins has established herself as one of the top sophomores in the WPIAL, averaging 24.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Yet, on a team predominatly made up of fellow sophomores, she and the Lions see better things to come after a competitive 3-4 (1-2 Section 1-4A) start to the year.

“We’re very young, but a lot of people are stepping up, and they’re figuring out their roles on the team,” Mankins said. “We’re a lot of hard competitors, and we hate to lose. Just from last year to this year, I think we’ve improved drastically.”

With so much room for growth, Lions coach Rick Klimchock said this is one of the most enjoyable teams he has had the chance to lead. And with a leader like Mankins, the ceiling is high, as they showed in their last game with No. 4 Southmoreland (6-0).

Mankins posted an outstanding line with 27 points, nine rebounds and nine steals, and the Lions trailed by only one after three quarters. In the final quarter, the Scotties’ experience and strength shined through as they pulled away for a 53-38 win, but the Lions were able to stay within one possession until the final four minutes.

“We just didn’t score in the fourth quarter, and they got away from us in the end, but I was really encouraged in that game,” Klimchock said. “(Mankins) is playing great, and we’re getting great play out of some other young people.”

For Greensburg Salem to take the next step, it will need to find baskets from players other than Mankins.

Sophomores Carissa Caldwell and Kylie Smith are next on the team, each averaging 5.6 points. Senior Shaleena Garner, sophomore Timaia Lewis and freshman Cadie Peters also average more than 3 points per game, but a consistent second scorer has yet to stand out from the Lions’ many capable options.

“They’re doing other things well. They’re defending. They’re rebounding. They’re helping us run the offense, but we’re looking to get some more scoring punch out of some more people,” Klimchock said. “If we get that, we’re going to get better and better as the year goes on.”

A second big scoring threat will pull attention away from Mankins, who last season had the benefit of sharing the floor with senior Megan Kallock, the Tribune-Review Player of the Year, and fellow senior Nikki Mellinger.

This season, Mankins gets the full attention of the opposing defense. Klimchock said Mankins is still outstanding in the open court and in transition, but that added defensive pressure hurts her ability to get open shots in the half-court offense.

“Last year, we had two great seniors. This year, my role is different because I need to be more of a leader. Now, when there’s a pressure situation, the other kids are looking at me,” Mankins said. “Whenever I face double teams or things like that, I have to get my teammates involved and trust them. They’re good players, too, and they’ll look to get it back to me when it’s possible, and I trust them to make their shots.”

Teaching those other young players to be more assertive and look for their own shot takes time, Klimchock said. But what he is getting from players like Mankins, Garner and junior Victoria Sarver is effort and steady leadership as the younger players come along.

“I truly love this team,” Klimchock said. “In basketball, you miss more shots than you take. Have confidence to step up and make big plays, that’s the big thing we’re trying to teach our girls. We’re close. We just have to get over the hump.”

If the Lions can make that next step, the playoffs seem like a realistic goal in a section where the race for fourth place seems wide open behind North Catholic, Knoch and Freeport. But given the team’s youth, focusing only on this season’s wins and losses might be the wrong thing in the big picture.

“Making the playoffs would be a great accomplishment for us,” Mankins said. “We really just want to have a great season with a lot of learning and growing and getting more wins. We’re striving to make it (to the playoffs), and it’s a goal for us, but we want to have an overall good season and keep getting better.”

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.

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