Kiski Area boys basketball team returns plenty for new coach
Nick Smith’s focus is full speed ahead.
The 6-foot-3 senior guard on the Kiski Area boys basketball team is feeling energetic about the potential for this year’s team as it builds with a new coach and a new system.
The Cavaliers, with five starters back and younger talent pushing for big roles, hope to make an impact after a rough 2017-18 campaign that saw them win just one game.
“It’s been fun,” Smith said. “We have a new start. We’re looking to get after it. Last year is over. We’re past that. We took a number of games on the chin, but we’ve learned how hard we have to work to win games.”
The new system comes from Will Saunders, who takes over from Joey Tutchstone, who resigned after five years as coach.
Saunders, a veteran in WPIAL coaching circles, has compiled more than 300 wins with three WPIAL championships and a PIAA title to his credit.
He said he sees the potential for the team to challenge for a playoff spot after going 1-21 last season. Kiski made the playoffs in 2016-17.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Saunders said. “I look at this as a goldmine of talent and resources to do great things. The guys have been really energetic. They want to learn and get better.”
Saunders said he saw a lot of good things from several summer tournaments and workouts and in games and additional workouts in the fall.
“We’re still figuring things out as far as what system we’re going to play because it’s only been a week or two since a number of the guys got in from football,” he said.
“We’re hoping to play a faster, up-tempo pace with a lot of pressing and running. We’re kind of doing this on the fly to see where we’re at. We have to do it quickly because we have a game in less than two weeks.”
Kiski Area opens with Derry on Dec. 7 in the opening round of the Derry Tournament.
“We have a chance to be pretty good, but we have a lot of work to do,” said Saunders, who got a good look at his team last Friday during scrimmages against Leechburg and Propel Braddock Hills.
The Cavaliers will get another preseason test Dec. 4 when they scrimmages at Class 6A Fox Chapel.
“We, as coaches, have to be patient and understand we are building and growing,” Saunders said. “As much as I’m learning from them, they are learning from me.”
Only one starter, point guard Ross Greece, moved on because of graduation. Joining Smith among the returning starters are seniors Ryne Wallace (6-5 forward), Jack Colecchi (6-2 forward), Austin Schwarz (6-2 forward) and Tracey Morris (5-11 guard).
Wallace missed the last half of last season with a knee injury, and Morris earned a starting role in Wallace’s absence.
“It was rough not being able to do anything and not being out there with my teammates,” said Wallace, the team’s leading scorer at the time of his injury. “But it feels great to be back and ready to go.”
Saunders said young players are challenging for time in a rotation that he said could go eight to 10 deep.
Freshman Kyrell Hutcherson, Saunders said, is a candidate to start at point guard. Jason Baker, a 6-7 sophomore forward, hopes to increase his varsity role this season, and freshmen guards Kyle Tipinski and Joe Lukas are expected to be in the mix.
“Even though five of the top six from last year are back, we made it clear that every job was open,” Saunders said. “That gave the younger guys the opportunity to compete for something so they didn’t walk in and think everything was already set.”
There were several changes to Section 3 of Class 5A in the offseason.
Section co-champion Franklin Regional returns, as does Armstrong.
Defending WPIAL Class 5A champion and PIAA runner-up Mars joins the fray, along with Hampton, Indiana, Shaler and Plum. Indiana moves up after winning the Section 1-4A title last year, Hampton was a playoff qualifier in 5A, and Shaler comes down from 6A.
“I feel we are in the toughest section in the WPIAL, top to bottom,” Saunders said. “I think we can compete in the section. We’ll be one of the biggest teams in the section, one through 10, so we have to use that (height) to our advantage.
“A lot of the teams in the section have players who have been in pressure situations and know how to win those close games. Our guys have to be confident to make the right decisions when they find themselves in those type of situations. Hopefully, we can get into a couple of early games where we have to make winning plays.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at [email protected] or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.