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Blackhawk girls use chemistry toward wins

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 6:38 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Blackhawk's Alexis Graham grabs a rebound next to Hopewell's Kari Steuer during their game Thursday Dec. 20, 2012 at Hopewell. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Blackhawk's Chassidy Omogrosso brings the ball upcourt during a game against Hopewell Thursday Dec. 20, 2012. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Blackhawk's Courtney Vannoy drives to the basket between Hopewell's MacKenzie Biggs (33) and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough during their game Thursday Dec. 20, 2012 at Hopewell. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

It's a fabulous five. A well-conditioned five, too.

The Blackhawk girls basketball team returned five players who started from last season's 24-5 squad that advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals.

As such, the Cougars entered this season with high expectations, and the early results supported the notion of Blackhawk as a WPIAL title contender.

The Cougars started 6-0, including a win at defending WPIAL champion and No. 1-ranked Hopewell last week, and their 71.3 points-per-game were second in the WPIAL heading into the Christmas break.

Scoring at that rate takes talented players, and it also necessitates an up-tempo style of play.

With sophomores Chassidy Omogrosso, Bridgette Shaffer and Courtney Vannoy, junior Halle Denman and senior Alexis Graham, the first part of that equation — talent — is no issue. Each is a multiple-year starter who averages double figures in scoring.

It's the pressuring, pressing and running mindset the fivesome employs that is so impressive. Point guard Omogrosso, shooting guards Denman and Shaffer and forwards Vannoy and Graham rarely leave the court.

“It's challenging at times — we really have to watch our foul situation now not being as deep,” Graham said. “But we work well together, so it's working for us.

“Actually, this year, we don't condition (at practice) as much as we normally would because everyone plays the whole game anyway, so we're really never out of shape.”

Blackhawk scored more than 65 points in each of its first four games and totaled less than 60 only once in its first six games.

“We like an up-tempo style of offense, and we like getting up and down the floor as fast as we can, as well as pressing,” Cougars coach Steve Lodovico said.

“Coming in, we had to make sure we were conditioned ... The girls came in in great shape. They really took care of themselves and made sure when the season tipped off we were ready to go.

Lodovico said most of the Cougars played together in summer and fall leagues from April on.

“They put a lot of time in, and it really shows in the team chemistry,” Lodovico said.

Omogrosso averaged 19 points as a freshman last season and had upped that average to more than 25 points through six games this season.

“She's great right now,” Graham said. “She'll get even better as she gets older.”

Denman and Graham also had proven they have the ability to be significant offensive contributors. Of course, all five of the Cougars' starters have shown they can score this season. Freshman Mariah Evans is Blackhawk's top option off the bench.

Blackhawk is just two seasons removed from its fifth WPIAL girls basketball championship, but this is mostly an entirely new team.

“Every year we try not to think about (goals) too much, but obviously we want to win the WPIAL, and we want to win states,” Lodovico said. “We feel like we have the girls to do it, but we've got to make sure we take it game by game. We want to be better than we were last season. We were one game short of the WPIAL (championship game) and two games short of (the PIAA title game at) Penn State. That brings us together to make sure we're working really hard.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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