Saint Vincent women return experienced group to make run at 2nd PAC title
Ask the Saint Vincent women’s basketball coach what he likes most about the current version of Bearcats, and you likely won’t get a straight answer.
There seem to be so many choices.
For Jimmy Petruska, whose team is coming off its third NCAA Division III playoffs appearance in eight-plus seasons since he took over the program after the sudden death of record-setting coach Kristen Zawacki, it’s tough to know where to start.
“For the first time in my career, we have a veteran team,” Petruska said. “Every year, we’ve been very young or very inexperienced at the start. With what we have right now, there’s no other team I want to coach. I want to win with this team, lose with this team and have a great journey this year with this team.”
His record of 150-66 ranks among the top 20 active Division III coaches in winning percentage (.694). He stands to make a significant improvement on those numbers with a season equal to or better than last year’s 23-5 campaign, including 15-1 in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into how you keep your program going strong,” Petruska said. “It goes well beyond what I’m doing as a head coach. There’s a lot of things that go into making it that successful. Kristen Zawacki laid the groundwork, but you’ve got to get very good basketball players, and we’ve had that coming through here. They buy into what we want to do and how we want to do it.”
It all adds up to what Petruska called “a dream job here at Saint Vincent.”
“Luck,” he added, “is definitely a big part of taking the next step. You have to stay healthy, and you have to get those one or two players to take you to the next level.”
Judging from Petruska’s glowing preseason enthusiasm, Saint Vincent just might have a host of them.
“We can be very explosive, energetic and confident,” he said. “We have weapons at every position, very deep. There’s a lot of good pieces amongst this team.”
Saint Vincent edged Washington & Jefferson for the top spot in the PAC preseason coaches’ poll, getting 65 points in the voting to 64 for W&J. The Bearcats received five first-place votes to four for the Presidents.
Those teams appear poised to continue what top-seeded Saint Vincent rekindled by routing No. 2 W&J, 70-48, in 2019 PAC Tournament championship game for the school’s first conference tournament title.
Saint Vincent’s top returning players are led by junior forward Madison Kollar, a hometown favorite of the Bearcats’ Unity campus. She attended nearby Latrobe, scoring more than 1,300 career points.
“This is the most complete team I’ve been a part of or seen,” said Kollar, who signed with Division II Pitt-Johnstown before transferring to Saint Vincent during her freshman year.
The 5-foot-11 Kollar since has endured ankle surgery that forced her to the sidelines for a year before she returned last season to lead the Bearcats in scoring (16.1 ppg) and finish second in rebounding (5.0).
“Even the freshmen coming in could step up and have their word this season,” she said, “and I think it helps we’re close on and off the court.”
Among those newcomers is 5-6 guard Megan Kallock, Greensburg Salem’s all-time leading scorer, who led the WPIAL in scoring (24.7 ppg) as a senior.
Now, at the college level, Kallock said she knows the landscape has changed. She is ready, she said, for whatever role is asked of her.
“Whenever the coaches need me to be in there, I’m going to work to play my hardest, love my teammates, work hard for them,” Kallock said. “I’m not going to back down.”
Other top returnees are senior guard Kayla Slovenec (Fox Chapel, 8.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg), senior forward Paige Montrose (Seneca Valley, 7.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, team-leading 69 steals), junior guard Carlee Kilgus (South Fayette, 7.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, team-leading 112 assists), junior guard Jenna Lafko (Hampton, 6.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg), senior guard Taylor Boring (6.0 ppg), senior guard Bri Van Volkenburg (OLSH, 4.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg), senior forward Erin Giancola (Mohawk, 2.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and senior guard Stephanie Vaughan (1.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg).
With 14 players seeing playing time last season, Saint Vincent should more than offset its most significant loss: 5-3 guard Maria Morgan (9.9 ppg), the team’s second-leading scorer.
“My mom (coach Dana Petruska) won a state title two years ago in Class 5A with Mars,” Petruska said. “She won five state playoff games, and I asked her what was different. She just kind of portrayed to me that you can’t control who you play or who you draw. But what you can control is how you prepare your team in every ounce of what you do.”
Dave Mackall is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.