Paint Branch guard Kiara Colston scored in double figures in every game as a junior. She averaged nearly five assists a game, led the team in free throw shooting and was second on the team in both rebounding and three-pointers made.
It was a breakout campaign for one of the area’s best players, and for the Panthers, who finished 21-4 and swept through conference play with 10 wins. But Paint Branch ran out of gas at the end of last season, losing by two in the Maryland 4A North final to Poly despite Colston’s 19 points and 10 assists.
“It kept us humble,” the 5-foot-7 guard said of the loss. “The hope is for us to go to state.”
The No. 3 Panthers (5-0) are solid contenders to do just that, and they’ve opened the season with Colston feeling as if “she doesn’t have to put the team on my back as much.” Colston has still produced offensively; she’s averaging 15.7 points per game, is hitting nearly 80 percent of her foul shots and has connected on six three-pointers in five games.
But gone is the sense that she needs to score 20 points or more every night for Paint Branch to win. The Panthers’ other star guard, junior Daisa Harris, leads the team in scoring with 19.8 points per game — including an average of 23.5 points in the team’s last two wins over Sherwood and Quince Orchard.
“That’s my other half on the court,” Colston said.
Paint Branch’s offensive juggernaut also includes sophomore Autumn Ashe (11.8 points per game) and junior Tyra Sinclair (10.2), who had 18 points against Quince Orchard. The Panthers are averaging 64.8 points per game, while holding opponents to 33.6. That’s nearly double last year’s point differential of 16.4.
Colston has her eye on the showdown with 3A/2A power No. 13 Damascus (6-1) on Jan. 3, a matchup against an opponent with similar experience, balance and firepower that will give the Panthers a litmus test heading into the meat of their league schedule. The Swarmin’ Hornets are averaging over 70 points per game, and have held their last two opponents to 28 points each in two wins.
“I’ve never played them,” Colston said. “I’m pretty excited to see what they have to offer.”