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Presto’s passion for basketball, coaching emerges at Baldwin

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randy jarosz | for trib total media
Among the returning starters expected back on the Baldwin girls' basketball team in 2015-16 is Lauren Gilbert (21), an all-section junior point guard.
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submitted photo
Nikki Presto

There probably won’t be a more enthusiastic coach in the Section 4-AAAA girls’ basketball ranks next season.

Nikki Presto was chosen to replace Gavin Prosser, who resigned as Baldwin’s head coach earlier this summer. Her hiring was pending school-board approval earlier this week.

“I am extremely excited to be hired,” Presto, 27, said. “I have big shoes to fill replacing Gavin Prosser, who made the playoffs all four seasons he was head coach. Having the support of the administration and community goes a long way into making a program successful; I instantly felt that here at Baldwin upon being hired.”

Presto is a health and physical education teacher at Harrison Middle School, a Baldwin-Whitehall feeder program.

She was an assistant girls’ basketball coach at Baldwin in 2014-15, and also coaches in the Harrison cross country and track and field programs.

“For me to apply for the job was a no-brainer,” Presto said. “I work in the district, teach in the district and coach two other sports, so it was perfect. Being a teacher in the district and building relationships with my students and athletes is what motivates me to be better every day.

“I didn’t stop talking for an hour (at her job interview). They had to force me out of there. I just wanted the job.”

Vince Sortino, Baldwin’s athletic director, was an integral part of the Presto’s interview process.

“She did a great job in her interview. Her prior coaching experience and (her) enthusiasm were factors. She talked about building the program in the community,” Sortino said. “She’s one of our teachers, but that didn’t sway it so much as her being so full of energy and really knowing basketball. She really has a winning attitude, for sure. Everyone is really excited.”

Presto was a standout basketball player at Thomas Jefferson and Slippery Rock University. She graduated from TJ in 2006, and ranks second in career scoring in the Lady Jaguars’ basketball program.

After her playing career ended, she was head coach at Keystone Oaks for three seasons, compiling a 43-30 record from 2011-14. The Keystone Oaks girls went 20-8 and reached the WPIAL Class AA semifinal round in 2011-12.

“I was given a great opportunity at age 23 to be a head coach at Keystone Oaks,” Presto said. “I learned so much in three seasons, so very quickly, from how to manage a team in the season and offseason, how to establish respect and rapport between coaching staff and players, and what makes players (and teams) tick to push them to fulfill their potential.

“I am a firm believer in preparation and attention to detail. When your players approach a game prepared — fundamentally, mentally and athletically — their confidence grows. It’s my job to put them in positions to be successful; that starts in the offseason with their fundamentals, and carries over to the season when we improve game to game and also correct our mistakes. The best practices are physically competitive and intense because they carry over into game situations. As a former point guard, I like to focus on winning the turnover battle and pushing the ball to score quickly in transition.”

Presto served as an assistant coach on Prosser’s staff last season, guiding the junior varsity squad to a 19-4 overall record.

Baldwin’s JV players consisted of Emma Ranft, Barb Spegar, Kayla McCormick, Abby Barr, Emma Wagner, Amber Baldinger, Amanda Wood, Teia Swiger, Abbey Larkin, Mia Lucarelli and Kyleigh Schmidt.

“The girls do have an insight of how I operate as a coach, and they know that they are starting off with a clean slate with me and a new staff,” Presto said. “I explained to them the first day of open gyms (that) it’s my job as a head coach to challenge them every day in order to do my job and for us to achieve our goals. They know I won’t be as nice as I was last season. I certainly have a head start in regard to figuring out our strengths and weaknesses to improve for next season.”

Baldwin returns four starters for 2015-16, including its top scorer in junior point guard Lauren Gilbert, from last year’s team, which advanced to the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal round.

Guard Amanda Larkin and forward Natalie Gazzam were the only seniors on last year’s squad.

Gilbert and Larkin were all-section selections in 2014-15.

“Looking into the future, we have a lot of returning and upcoming talent. The cupboard is certainly not bare,” Presto said. “We were one game away from winning a section championship last season. That is our goal each and every year.

“We play in the toughest section in Class AAAA; every game will be a battle. We expect to compete for a playoff spot.”

Along with Gilbert, Alex Barr, a senior guard; Carly Lutz, a senior forward; and Wood, a junior forward, were starters for Baldwin in 2014-15. McCormick, a senior guard, also was a major contributor at the varsity level.

“We may have a target on our back with four returning starters, but we need to learn to work hard and live up to high expectations for ourselves and from others,” said Presto, whose younger brother Dom was a multi-sport athlete at Thomas Jefferson who won the Breisinger Award in 2012 following his senior football season.

Presto will be assisted by Bill Arre, an assistant coach in the Thomas Jefferson boys’ basketball program the past two seasons.

Arre is the all-time leading scorer in boys’ basketball at both Thomas Jefferson and Lock Haven. He went on to a stellar career in college, and played professionally for four years in Luxembourg.

“(Arre) will have a great impact on our program,” Presto said. “I am excited to work with him and learn from him.”

Presto has another Thomas Jefferson connection in her coaching (and playing) resume — Lisa Fairman, who is head coach of the Belle Vernon girls’ basketball program.

“Lisa Fairman, my high school coach at TJ, has been a perfect role model for me as a young, female coach,” Presto said. “I adored her as a player because she pushed me and dared me to be better. Ten years later, I still call her for advice and know that she is more knowledgeable and passionate about the game than ever.

“She taught me that you never stop learning as a player and a coach; that sticks with me daily. She’s one of the best coaches in Pittsburgh and doesn’t get enough praise.”

Trib Total Media contributed to this story. Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or [email protected].

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