Regardless of the outcome, members of the Blackhawk High School girls basketball team knew they had to make their four-hour trek from Hershey back to Chippewa after competing in the PIAA Class AAA championship game.
But they made sure that bus ride would be filled with exuberance and an empty seat on which to place the third championship trophy in program history after defeating District 12 champion Archbishop Wood, 51-43.
"It feels great," Cougars coach Steve Lodovico said. "I don't know if it has really sunk in yet. We have been so busy since the game ended. We haven't had time to sit down to think about it. The players, coaching staff and community are very excited."
Like she most of the season, junior Chassidy Omogrosso led the Cougars with a game-high 26 points and helped seal the win from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
"Chas has been doing this for the past three years," Lodovico said. "It seems like the bigger the stage, the better she plays. I could tell it was going to be a good night for her from warm-ups. She helped us win that game from the line down the stretch."
For Lodovico, this wasn't his first go-round at winning a state championship. In his time as a student and player for the Blackhawk boys team under John Miller, he was fortunate enough to be a part of two state championship teams. With him being an adult and more mature, he feels like this one he can savor a little bit more.
"I think it is a lot different," Lodovico said about winning a state title as a coach compared to as a player. "I think you appreciate it more as a coach. I am older now and as a kid you don't realize how hard it is to get there. I enjoyed it a little bit more but both feelings were awesome.
"I think it makes it even more special to do it at Blackhawk. I was talking to a lot of the fans at Hershey and they supported me as a player. I have a great rapport with the community. I just think it is an awesome feeling to win a championship."
Entering the game, Archbishop Wood, located in Warminster, Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, had an overwhelming advantage when it came to experience. The Vikings won the state title in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but Lodovico used his own experience to help out his squad.
"I think coming into the game, Archbishop Wood had an advantage because they already won a championship before with these players," Lodovico said. "I told them what to expect and what the weekend would be like. For them it was just to do what they do when they get on the floor and taking one thing at a time and having fun."
The Cougars will hang up this PIAA championship banner next to the ones of the 1999 and 2000 teams as the only girls' teams in Blackhawk history to capture a PIAA title.
"It is a difficult thing to do," Lodovico said. "It is not easy and it makes you appreciate it even more when they went there back-to-back years in 1999 and 2000. The girls in 1999 wrote emails to our girls and some of them came down to the game to support our girls on Saturday."
There was much motivation for the Cougars to come out on top at the Giant Center but one would be hard-pressed to find a bigger reason than senior Halle Denman. One of two seniors on the team, she has now done it all in her Cougars career.
"It was very special for Halle," Lodovico said. "They were pushing for her. She has been a tremendous player for us. She is a three-year starter and going on a full athletic scholarship to IUP. She has had a tremendous career and we are very proud of her."
The girls were welcomed home to Chippewa with open arms when they returned home on Sunday and with their first day back in school on Monday. This accomplishment is something they will be talking about for a long time, but like they have been doing all year, they will keep busy and move on.
"There was an assembly on Monday at the high school and we still have our banquet but most of these girls will be jumping into their next sport whether it is softball or AAU basketball," Lodovico said. "They will stay busy but we will talk about it for long time."
If the pattern continues the same as the first time they won a state title, the Cougars can be expected to have another celebration next year, and they have the players to do it.
"We will set goals to get back there next year," Lodovico said. "We have four of the five starters returning We have to have girls work hard to fill Halle's spot. It is not going to be an easy role to fill but they will work hard and give us our best shot to win games."