Kiski Area girls want to keep arrow pointed up
After six seasons, the Kiski Area girls basketball team finds itself under the direction of a new coach.
Nick Dizon, who served as a varsity assistant and ninth grade coach in the Gateway boys basketball program the past three seasons, hit the ground running in April and got to know the talent he had to work with.
Dizon, who took over following the resignation of Nick Ionadi shortly after last season came to a close, said the players have responded well to the changes, including the new system in place.
“We’re really preaching playing with a sense of urgency,” Dizon said. “We compete every day in practice. We can’t be successful if everything is channeled through just one or two people. We need every girl to step up. I think that’s helped the new faces get acclimated because they realize they have opportunities.”
The team Dizon inherited is young. Only two seniors dot the roster of 16.
A pair of starters were lost to graduation in Katelyn Brown and Mallory Shick.
The team also lost all-section performer and leading scorer Harley Holloway, who transferred to Freeport.
The Cavaliers took a step forward last year as they went 8-13 overall and 3-9 in Section 4-5A. They finished one game out of the final WPIAL playoff spot from the section.
“We had girls really put in some work in the summer,” Dizon said. “They will get their shot. We want to play an up-tempo pace, a hectic pace, so that will open the door for a lot of kids to play. You can’t play that way with just five or six players. You need eight or nine girls to, at minimum, step in and give you some minutes. We’re just looking for girls who can compete.”
The Cavaliers will look to the leadership of junior returning starters Violeta Kenzevich and Hannah Potter.
“We’ve come a long way since April, when coach (Dizon) came in,” Potter said. “We are working really well together, and coach is pushing us hard. I think we can have a good season.”
Kenzevich, a guard/forward hybrid at 5-foot-8, and Potter, a 5-4 guard, were all-section honorable-mention selections last year.
“We don’t have as much height as we did last season, but I think we recover that with speed,” Kenzevich said. “We’re also really working on a lot of the little things, especially on defense with things like feet positioning and taking good angles to the ball. That can make the difference.”
Dizon said Kenzevich and Potter should take that next step this season.
“Violeta is arguably the best athlete in the school,” Dizon said. “She’s very good defensively and just a good basketball player all around. She affects the game in so many ways because of her athleticism.
“Hannah is the type of kid you would want in any locker room. She leads by example. She’s always one of the hardest workers, and she makes other players better. She, along with Violeta, embraces the leadership, and players look up to her because of the intangibles she brings.”
Joining Kenzevich and Potter in the potential starting lineup or rotation is sophomore guard Sam Worthing.
“Sam is probably the most improved player since I got here,” Dizon said. “We’re going to rely heavily on her ability to handle the ball, to defend and to shoot.”
Dizon said he appreciates the size and rebounding ability, at 6-2, of freshman forward Dejah Burnett, and he hopes to see good things, especially on the defensive end, from freshman 5-8 guard/forward Karly Keller.
Also in the mix, Dizon said, are senior forward Dara Zelonka, sophomore forward Nicole Hilty and junior forward Leah Simendinger.
The only change in the section from last year to now is last-place Indiana departed, and defending WPIAL champion Gateway has joined the group.
Mars and Hampton return as defending co-champions in the section. Armstrong finished third, and Plum edged Kiski and Franklin Regional for the fourth and final playoff spot.
The Planets led the section in the WPIAL playoffs with a spot in the semifinals.
Dizon said the section will be challenging from top to bottom.
“I think we need some on-the-job training where they are put in pressure situations to see how they handle those tough moments,” Dizon said. “We’re doing a lot of drills in practice that will help give them the confidence to come up big in those moments.”
Kiski continues its march to the season opener with a home scrimmage at 4 p.m. Tuesday against Greensburg-Salem.
The Cavaliers are slated to scrimmage Serra Catholic on Thursday before starting the season Dec. 7 at the Leechburg Tip-Off Tournament. They take on Imani Christian in the opening round.
A home game against Knoch on Dec. 10 precedes the section opener with Mars on Dec. 13.
“These early games will be very important in how we grow from a win or a loss,” Dizon said. “We’re really looking forward to getting the season started.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at [email protected] or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.