On paper last season the Blackhawk girls' basketball team did not look very menacing.
The 13-player roster included eight freshmen.
On the court it was a different story.
The Cougars won 24 games, shared the Section 2-AAA title, reached the WPIAL semifinals and the PIAA quarterfinals.
With their top six players back from a year ago, Blackhawk looks good on paper and on the court.
The Cougars (3-0) are ranked No. 2 in the Post-Gazette preseason rankings. They are led by three of the top players in Class AAA, senior forward Alexis Graham, junior guard Halle Denman and sophomore point guard Chassidy Omogrosso.
They got the season off to a strong start, winning the championship of their own tip-off tournament. They routed Mars Area, 66-25, and Beaver Falls, 72-30, before soundly defeating Montour, 81-45, Monday.
"If you looked at what we graduated going into last season, a lot of people thought we would be down," coach Steve Lodovico said. "We knew the talent in that freshman class. I didn't know we would be that successful but having that kind of season was a nice springboard into this year."
Blackhawk is ranked behind No. 1 Hopewell. The section rivals played three times last season with the teams splitting their regular-season meetings. Hopewell went on to win the WPIAL championship but Blackhawk knocked off the Vikings in the PIAA second round.
Hopewell finished 25-3 last season with Blackhawk accounting for two of those losses. The two regular-season meetings between the teams are likely to be two of the most anticipated games of the year.
"I have been here eight years and this is always one of the best sections in the WPIAL," Lodovico said. "This year it is going to be good again with Hopewell, Central Valley and a team like New Castle who is always good."
Along with Graham, Denman and Omogrosso, other returning players who started at some point last season are sophomore guard Bridgette Shaffer, sophomore forward Cortney Vannoy and senior guard Jamie Emge.
"We have our top six back and all of them have started at some point," Lodovico said. "They seem more savvy on the floor this year."
Although this is still basically a young team overall, it does have senior leadership with captains Graham and Denman. Graham is a three-year starter who played on the 2010 WPIAL championship team.
"They were big for us last year with us being so young," Lodovico said. "They are the ones we rely on for that experience."
Omogrosso led the team last season averaging 19 points per game. Graham and Denman both added 14 points per game and Shaffer averaged nine points per game.
"A lot of teams tried to key on Chassidy, but the best thing about our team this year and last year is we have so many scorers," Lodovico said. "We saw a triangle and two [defense]last year and our shooters would step up. We have so many different weapons."
Omogrosso hit 52 3-pointers last season. She hit eight 3-pointers in her playoff debut, a game in which she scored 36 points.
"Omogrosso is an up-tempo kind of player," Lodovico said. "She is an excellent shooter and she is very quick with the ball."
If there is a weakness on this Blackhawk team, it may be its lack of depth. Lodovico does not envision going deep into his bench if he doesn't have to.
"Depth is probably our biggest weakness," Lodovico said. "We have to be smart with our fouls and keep everyone in the game. That is our big hurdle this year."
First Published December 13, 2012 5:00 AM