At most schools, winning WPIAL titles in football and basketball in the same school year would be nothing more than a pipe dream.
At Aliquippa, though, it’s more like the bare minimum.
OK, so maybe it’s not something that happens every year, but the Quips previously have turned the trick three times. Aliquippa raised WPIAL championship banners in both sports in 1986-87, 2003-04 and 2015-16, and the Quips have been close on several other occasions. A year ago, they lost in the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA final in basketball after winning a WPIAL and state title in football — all despite the obvious conflict between the two sports, which overlap at the beginning of the basketball season if you’re good enough to still be playing football into early December.
That might not matter quite as much at some larger schools, but Aliquippa has a basketball roster almost entirely comprising football players — 16 out of 18 to be exact. That means Quips coach Nick Lackovich didn’t even gather his players for their first practice until four days before their first game of the season, which turned out to be a 56-51 loss at Farrell.
“We went up there and played them at their place, and we were winning by 10 going into the fourth quarter, and we just ran out of gas,” Lackovich said.
Aliquippa got off to a sluggish start last season after the lengthy football campaign, beginning the year with a record of 7-6 through 13 games. But the Quips hit their stride at the perfect time, winning 12 of their final 15 games including a stretch that included six WPIAL and PIAA playoff wins. They came up just short of their ultimate goals, but this year’s team appears to have gained some invaluable experience from last year’s playoff run.
“I feel like we should have won last year. We came up short against Shady Side,” said senior guard D.J. Walker. “I feel like we’ve got to win in basketball, especially because we came up short in football [in the 2022 state title game]. I feel like winning in basketball would at least make it better.”
Although Aliquippa’s record might not tell the full story — the Quips are 11-5 overall and 6-0 in section play — it’s clear that this year’s team was much quicker to round into form after the season-opening defeat. Aliquippa bounced back from the Farrell loss with wins against Steel Valley, Beaver Falls and West Philadelphia before a razor-close 52-49 loss against Chartiers Valley, one of the top teams in Class 5A.
The Quips then won four games in a row before two losses to New Town, Md., and Harrisburg, then scored consecutive impressive wins against section foe Shenango and Avonworth.
“Shenango has a pretty nice team, and we showed up and dominated them from start to finish,” Lackovich said. “We know what we’ve got here. It’s just battling through some things, and we’re missing a couple guys who we won’t have this year who would have definitely made a big difference in this team. But we still think we have enough to get it done.”
That brings us to Aliquippa’s most recent defeat, which might have also been its most eye-opening performance of the season. The Quips took a trip to New Castle and went blow for blow with the team many consider to be the WPIAL championship favorite in Class 6A before losing a hard-fought battle, 55-50.
“We had our chances in that one,” Lackovich said. “Some bad turnovers and free throws were the biggest thing. If we make our free throws, we win that game.”
Three days later, Aliquippa defeated South Side by 23 points before picking up what Lackovich called the team’s “signature win” of the season — a 54-48 triumph Sunday against Uniontown at the PBC Hall of Fame Classic at Montour. One of the leading contenders for the WPIAL title in Class 4A, the Red Raiders (15-2 overall) boast the No. 2 scoring offense in the WPIAL and had won 14 games in a row entering that contest.
The Quips’ stifling defense held Uniontown to nearly 30 points below its season average, controlling the tempo and pace of play despite having several players show up just moments before the game after returning from college recruiting visits. Walker was at Ohio University’s junior day, while Cam Lindsey was at Kentucky and Tiqwai Hayes at West Virginia.
“I think things are just starting to come together,” Lackovich said. “I know we kept our poise. Once we got it tied up after the first quarter, I kind of felt like we were in control the rest of the way.”
Walker and Lindsey generally are viewed as Aliquippa’s top two players, with Walker handling most of the scoring and facilitating while Lindsey cleans up on the boards and dominates in the paint. Although both of their futures will be in football, they each view themselves as multi-sport athletes capable of leading the Quips back to another state championship appearance.
And why shouldn’t they? After all, Aliquippa hasn’t missed out on a state title game in football or basketball since the 2020-21 season. Still, having lost in their most recent trips to the state final in both sports, these Quips have a sour taste in their mouths that can only be cured by winning a WPIAL or PIAA gold medal this March.
Maybe even both.
“In football, everyone is used to seeing us in the championship game and winning it most of the time,” Lindsey said. “Last year, we weren’t expected to be there by a lot of people [in basketball]. So with us returning pretty much every guy we had last year, it’s just the standard for us to try to get back.
“We have some unfinished business, so hopefully we can finish it this time.”
Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.