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Trib Cup: Blackhawk girls set to make history

| Friday, March 21, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Mercyhurst's Emily Shopene (left) defends Blackhawk's Chassidy Omogrosso during PIAA action Saturday, March 7, 2014, at Moon High School.

The Blackhawk girls basketball team is one win away from doing something the program hasn't done in 14 years.

The Cougars will look to win their first state title since 2000 when they play Archbishop Wood at the Giant Center in Hershey for the PIAA Class AAA championship at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Staying focused has been the mantra of coach Steve Lodovico's group this week, and he said now is not the time to be complacent.

“We've talked a lot watching film and everyone's in agreement that we can't be satisfied yet,” Lodovico said. “We aren't going out there just to be happy, we want to win the whole thing.

“We know (Tuesday) night was a step in the right direction, now we have to finish it off.”

The Cougars are highlighted as this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are a primary reason why Blackhawk is in seventh place in the Class AAA standings. Lodovico knows a thing, or two to be exact, about winning a state championship. He was a starter on legendary Blackhawk coach John Miller's team that won back-to-back state titles in 1995 and 1996.

He's spoken a lot this week about the media attention and travel details that are about to ensue. Still, he said, there's no way to truly prepare teenagers for the atmosphere the Giant Center will bring until they enter the arena.

“It's an advantage with us because I can communicate with them what to expect,” he said. “We'll treat it like every other game, even though it's not.

“We don't want to get uptight or nervous. For now, we just want to enjoy everything playing in the state championship brings and then focus on the game itself when the ball is tipped.”

Motivating and keeping his group focused is something he hasn't put much emphasis on, however. This year's squad has the self-awareness and desire to be great on their own.

“We're fortunate to have kids that have great leadership and love the game,” he said. “When they get on the floor you see they love playing. We don't have to get up on game day.

“They do that on their own.”

The biggest difference from last year and this year, Lodovico said, is the depth and talent both in the starting five and off the bench. Last year, Lodovico only played five players, and if they were in a funk or foul trouble, there were problems overcoming them.

Duquesne recruit Chassidy Omogrosso and her 22 points per game anchor Lodovico's offense. Paired with Indiana (Pa.) recruit Halle Denman and Loyola (Md.) recruit Courtney Vannoy, the Cougars are stacked offensively.

Bridgette Shaffer scored a team-best 64 3-pointers and Danielle Levato has been a force in the post.

“We're balanced and everybody knows their role,” Lodovico said. “The best thing about us is we can score with so many different options.

“What teams try to do is say we'll take Chassidy away, but when you have other girls who can score, it can be difficult for other teams.”

Freshmen Madison Amalia and Brianna Hoover have played valuable minutes off the bench and shown signs of a promising future. Sophomore Mariah Evans spells Levato often when a pair of fresh legs are needed.

“At this point in the year, even though two off our bench are freshman, we expect them to play like sophomores,” he said. “Obviously, we don't want be on the floor without Halle and Chassidy, but that stuff happens. … People always have to be ready and we know they'll do a good job when they're in there.”

As much success as the offense has had this season, Lodovico said the winning is derived from everyone's ability and desire to play stingy defense.

“We honestly generate all of our offense from our defense,” he said. “We want to make you uncomfortable and force turnovers and make buckets in transition.”

When asked what he thought this team's legacy would be moving forward, Lodovico thought long and hard and said it's the demeanor and willingness to play for their teammates that will stand out.

“We'll find out Saturday, but I think they can do something special,” he said. “This is just a very coachable group and when you watch them on the floor, you'll see they are one of the most talented teams to come out of Blackhawk.”

Lodovico could be one day away from adding a third state title to his resume, and given the group he's spent numerous hours preparing with, it may be his most special one yet.

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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