Gabby Holko was still coaching in Lackawanna County when she first learned of Olivia Ciullo’s prowess on the basketball court.
Holko moved on from Marywood University to Susquehanna University in time for the 2019-20 season, but she continued to keep an eye on local girls basketball and kept following Ciullo’s progress at Old Forge.
That interest paid off this week when Ciullo, a member of the championship NEPA Elite Clark 17U AAU and Old Forge High School teams, gave her verbal commitment to continue her academic and athletic careers at Susquehanna.
Ciullo selected Susquehanna after also considering other National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III schools Misericordia, Wilkes, King’s, Marywood and Lebanon Valley as well as Division II schools University of the Sciences and Mansfield. She had recently received a scholarship offer from the University of the Sciences.
“I’ve been in contact with coach Gabby Holko for a long time,” Ciullo said. “It just felt like it was the right move. It felt like it would be home for the next four years. It felt like it was the best fit for myself athletically, academically and for my future.”
Holko, who had been an assistant at Lackawanna College before her one season as head coach at Marywood, is a big part of that reason.
“She’s a very enthusiastic coach who always wants the best for her players,” Ciullo said. “I couldn’t say no to that.”
Ciullo finished strong with the Hoop Group Showcase League championship team that includes three other players who have already committed to colleges and more who are receiving recruiting interest. She raised her scoring and rebounding averages over the second half of the AAU season and hit 50 percent of her shots during that time.
“I just think in the second half of the season I was more confident in myself than I was earlier in the season,” said the 5-foot-8 Ciullo, who finished as the team’s third-leading rebounder. “I realized where I fit in on the team.
“ … It was a great experience with a great team. It was just a great summer.”
At Old Forge, Ciullo earned third-team Class 2A all-state honors from Pennsylvania sports writers after a junior season in which she averaged more than 18 points and 8 rebounds while surpassing the 1,000-point mark for her career. She led Old Forge to a District 2 championship and a spot in the state quarterfinals where the season ended early because of the coronavirus.
Susquehanna went 15-10, including 7-7 in the Landmark Conference, in Holko’s first season.
Earlier commitments from the NEPA Elite Clark 17U team were Scranton Prep’s Cecelia Collins to Bucknell, Scranton Prep’s Rachael Rose to University of South Carolina Upstate and Skylar Bianchi to Misericordia University.