Share This Page

Presto makes immediate impact from bench

Nikki Presto was named the 2006 Daily News Player of the Year at Thomas Jefferson and spent four years on the Slippery Rock women's basketball team, but the former point guard never envisioned herself as a coach.

"I remember my senior year of college, I would just cry at my locker after games and say, ‘What am I going to be doing at this time next year• I'm not going to have anything to do with basketball,' " Presto recalled.

"And then, go figure. Nothing has changed."

Nothing has changed because pretty much everything changed last May, when Presto became the girls basketball coach at Keystone Oaks High School in Dormont, only one year after reluctantly dipping her toes into the coaching pool.

"People always assumed that I wanted to become a coach, but honestly, it just fell into my lap," Presto said. "At first I thought, ‘Ah, this will keep me busy.' Then I really liked it."

Take a look at what Keystone Oaks has done this season, and it's easy to understand why: The Golden Eagles finished the regular season at 16-6 overall and 7-5 in Section 5-AA, good enough to force a tie for third place and earn a playoff berth when postseason brackets are released tomorrow night.

"Honestly, you would have never guessed that this is her first year coaching," senior guard Alexis Xenakis said. "I'm not just saying this to make her sound good, but she's the best coach I've ever had."

Presto averaged 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals per game as a senior at TJ and scored more than 1,000 points during her career. She led the team to Section 5-AAA titles during her junior and senior seasons, earning all-section accolades both years.

At Slippery Rock, Presto started 82 games, averaging eight points and three assists per game, the latter number ranking No. 9 all-time at the school.

Not only was she a frequent presence — she played 2,418 minutes in those four years, eighth all-time at Slippery Rock —but she was also a feisty point guard, the quintessential floor general.

"From freshman year through graduation, every drill at every practice was one speed, and that was all she could give," said former Slippery Rock women's basketball coach Laurel Heilman, who was in the stands when Keystone Oaks beat Slippery Rock High School, 67-62, on Dec. 28.

"I haven't been to her practices, but I have to think that she's carried that over to her team," Heilman added. "Watching them, they were very disciplined; they knew each others' roles and knew that on the offensive end, if it wasn't going well, their defense was going to keep them in the game."

A health/physical education teacher, Presto did her student teaching in Raleigh, N.C. during the summer of 2010 and only got interested in coaching after moving home and attending one of her younger brother Dom's football games that fall.

That conversation led Presto to apply to become the JV girls basketball coach, and she spent one season working under Jamie Polak, the current TJ girls coach. A year later, Presto got her own team.

"It's different when you coach because you can tell them every single thing to do • that doesn't mean they're going to do it," said Presto, who's working as a permanent substitute at Harrison Middle School in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District. "That can be a frustrating thing, but it still came a little bit more natural than I thought."

Still only 23 years old, Presto, by her own admission, might be more commonly mistaken for one of her players' older sisters than their coach. But that doesn't bother Presto, especially not when she's leading her team to playoffs as a rookie.

"She's a really good coach," Keystone Oaks senior Taylor Brownlee said. "She has taught us a lot, and she's never negative. I also think she understands us more because she was where we're at not too long ago. It's definitely been a good experience."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.