When coach Nick Ionadi looks at his current team, he sees a lot of similarities to a team on which he used to play.
Ionadi, now in his first year as head coach of the Kiski Area girls basketball team, played on the Penn Hills 2000 WPIAL boys Class AAAA championship team. That team featured Drew Schifino, the top player in Class AAAA. Kiski features senior Maddie Antone, one of the top players in Class AAAA this season.
Ionadi was the second-leading scorer on that Penn Hills team averaging around 16 points per game. He sees senior guard Taylor Muffie filling a similar role this year.
That Penn Hills team had size, a prolific scorer and it fought its way to the WPIAL final and PIAA semifinals on the strength of defense and rebounding.
"Our team this year is in some ways similar," Ionadi said. "Maddie is our big scorer, Taylor will fill more of a role like myself and she will alleviate pressure on Maddie."
Ionadi has mentioned the similarities between the two teams to his current squad. They are well aware how that Penn Hills team's WPIAL playoff run ended with a title. A similar ending for this team is a possibility but it will be an uphill climb.
Ionadi is the third new coach at Kiski in four seasons. He was an assistant to Aaron Epps who resigned after last season to take a similar post at Hempfield, but Ionadi did not take over as head coach until September. In addition to that many of his players played other sports in the fall so the team has only been fully together for about four weeks before the season.
"It's going to take us some time as a team to get going," Ionadi said.
In addition to the lack of an offseason program, the Cavaliers are also missing two would-be contributors in senior forward Tara Stolarski and senior guard Lyndsey Weiser. Both are out with injuries and best-case scenario would be a January return for both. Despite their injuries Stolarski and Weiser are team captains.
"They are two of our four captains just because of what type of kids they are," Ionadi said.
The other two are Antone and Muffie.
Last season Kiski finished 16-7 overall and 8-4 in Section 1-AAAA to finish in third place behind Penn-Trafford and Hempfield.
With Antone back, expectations are ramped up. She averaged 17 points per game last season and was the top vote-getter on the all-section team. She started at forward last season but is expected to play as a guard/forward this season as Ionadi hopes to take advantage of her talent in multiple roles.
Along with Muffie and Antone the other starters are senior guard Rachel Weyant and senior forwards Kaylie Dilts and Megan Magersky. Channing James, a 6-foot-4 sophomore transferred into the district from Highlands. She will see time at forward.
"Maddie is going to score, Taylor is going to score," Ionadi said. "Our guards are very solid and quick but our big thing will be rebounding and defending. We will basically try to physically impose ourselves. Our biggest advantage is going to be our size."
Antone, Stolarski and Dilts are all 5-10.
Freshman point guard Alexis Trkula and sophomore forward Elizabeth Recchia are also expected to contribute.
Ionadi will make his head coaching debut against a familiar school. Kiski will play in the Butler tipoff tournament. Ionadi and Penn Hills knocked off Butler in the 2000 WPIAL Class AAAA championship game.
Kiski and Butler will meet at 8 p.m. Friday. The other two teams at the tipoff tournament are Hopewell and Ionadi's alma mater, Penn Hills.