WPIAL, PIAA champion Blackhawk girls to face challenges in title defense
To claim WPIAL and PIAA titles last season, the Blackhawk girls basketball team needed to play in two championship games.
If the Cougars are going to repeat this season, it will feel like many more.
“Our coaches have said it already: Every team, when they play against us, they’re going to play us like it’s their championship,” senior guard Bridgette Shaffer said.
Her response? Bring it on.
“We’re ready to go,” she said. “We want to do it again.”
With four starters returning, the Cougars (28-2 last season) are looking to pick up where they left off in Class AAA. Joining Shaffer, who averaged 12 points per game last season, are fellow seniors Danielle Levato, Courtney Vannoy and point guard Chassidy Omogrosso, a Duquesne recruit who averaged 22 points last season.
“She’s one of those girls that never stops working,” Blackhawk coach Steve Lodovico said of Omogrosso. “She’s gotten even faster and stronger.”
The only starter lost to graduation was guard Halle Denman (IUP), who will be tough to replace. Not only did she average 12 points, but she also was a shutdown defender.
Looking to take the crowns from Blackhawk will be Mars, which boasts two all-section players among its five returning starters; Ringgold and 6-foot-6 West Virginia recruit Marlena Schmidt; perennial contender Elizabeth Forward, a semifinalist last season; Belle Vernon and 6-2 Bucknell recruit Kaitlyn Slagus, who averaged 23 points and 19 rebounds; and Ambridge, which returns a wealth of talent and pushed Blackhawk to the limit in both Section 2 matchups last season.
“We know from our success last year we’re going to have a bull’s-eye on our back,” Lodovico said.
In the offseason, celebrating and talking about its championships were fair game for Blackhawk players. But now, there is no more chatter allowed.
“Experience-wise, we know what we can do, but we can’t get big heads,” Shaffer said. “We have to stay focused on this year because it’s a new year.”
The Cougars don’t need to talk themselves up. The opposition already knows what they are up against.
“Blackhawk is the top of the top,” Mars coach Tony Howard said. “Usually you have four or so teams that are about the same level. I don’t see that being the case. You have Blackhawk up there and then everyone else.”
Ringgold coach Laura Grimm added: “They won states last year, so they start at the top with everyone looking up at them.”
Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.