Kaitlyn Slagus was scrolling through profiles on the dating app Hinge back in July 2022 when she received a message from a man who thought he knew her.

“Hey, aren’t you the Belle Vernon coach?” the message read.

“And I was like, ‘That’s an awesome pickup line,’” Slagus deadpanned.

The guy in question was Nick Dizon, and while the two didn’t actually know one another at the time, they knew of each other as both were local high school basketball coaches. Dizon had just recently taken over as coach of the Avonworth girls, while Slagus was about to begin her third season coaching the Belle Vernon girls.

It turned out the two had a lot in common, so less than a week later they agreed to go on a date.

“We knew we were going to cross paths sooner or later with coaching because it’s such a small world, so we went out and had a good time,” Slagus recalls.

Well, good times began stacking up. And wouldn’t you know, this “couple of coaches” eventually moved in with one another before Dizon popped the question last summer. Slagus said “yes,” so these two basketball junkies turned lovebirds have been busy planning their upcoming summer wedding all while leading their teams to postseason berths.

This engaged couple has been engaged in getting their teams ready for the WPIAL playoffs, which begin Thursday. Avonworth (19-1) is the No. 1 seed in Class 3A. The defending champion hosts No. 16 Apollo-Ridge (8-13) in a first-round game Saturday. Belle Vernon (10-12) is the No. 11 seed in Class 4A and will travel to play No. 6 Knoch (13-9) in a first-round game next Tuesday.

“Everyone wants to peak at this time of year,” said Dizon, whose Avonworth team has ripped off 13 consecutive wins. “We were obviously a pretty good team last year, but I feel like we’ve improved, and I feel like we can get better.”

Basketball has been a major part of Slagus and Dizon’s lives for as long as they can remember. The two are anything but vertically challenged, with Dizon standing 6 feet 5 and Slagus 6-1. The pair combined that size with talent to become standout players at high schools in different Western Pennsylvania counties and at colleges in different parts of the state.

Slagus, 26, also played at Belle Vernon, from which she graduated in 2015 before going on to have an outstanding college career at Bucknell, located in Lewisburg. At Bucknell, Slagus was Patriot League Rookie of the Year, a three-time all-conference choice and MVP of the Patriot League Tournament her senior season. Slagus, who played in the NCAA tournament twice, ranks first on Bucknell’s career list in rebounding and is second in blocked shots.

Dizon, 33, is a Rankin native and 2009 Woodland Hills graduate who became a three-year starter at Penn State Greater Allegheny. Dizon might not have earned some of the major awards that his fiancee once did, but he still ranks fourth on the program’s career list in blocked shots and fifth in rebounds.

The two then made the transition to coaching. Dizon, who has spent nine years as an assistant director with Basketball Stars of America AAU, was a boys assistant at Gateway before coaching the Kiski Area girls for four seasons from 2018-22. Dizon then stepped down from that position to become women’s coach at Penn State Greater Allegheny. However, six days after being hired, Dizon noticed that the Avonworth girls job opened, which sparked intrigue.

“I didn’t do anything right away, but a month later I saw that Avonworth still didn’t have a coach,” said Dizon, who now works as a paraprofessional at Avonworth. “The more I thought about it, I like the high school level better. I feel like I can do more there. So I took a chance. I said, ‘I’m going to go for this,’ and I couldn’t be happier.”

Avonworth head coach Nick Dizon directs his team during last season’s WPIAL Class 3A basketball championship against Laurel. Avonworth won, 48-40, and hopes to make it back-to-back titles this season. (Alexandra Wimley/Union Progress)

Slagus’ move into coaching came not long after her playing career came to a close. After graduating from Bucknell in 2019, she played professionally in Ireland for a season after being one of two Patriot League student-athletes awarded Victory Scholarships from the Sport Changes Life Foundation. Slagus attended Carlow Institute of Technology in Carlow, Ireland, where she competed for the program’s Ireland Women’s Super League team while also working toward her master’s degree. The pandemic eventually forced Slagus to return home, and when the girls job at her alma mater opened, she decided to pounce on the opportunity.

“It was a full circle moment,” said Slagus, a financial adviser. “Playing for them, going to college and playing professionally, and then coming back and being able to run a program that ultimately made me the player I was meant a lot to me.”

Nick and Kaitlyn’s first date saw them meet for dinner at Hal’s in Ross. The two began to form a connection that night, even though they weren’t very aligned with how they chose to dress for the occasion.

“I was coming from AAU, so I was in sweatpants,” Dizon remembers.

Said Slagus, “I had jeans on, a typical first date, you know? He came from coaching, and he came in sweatpants, probably like his Adidas little zip-up jacket. And I kind of laughed and we still laugh about it, because from the very start he wasn’t trying to put on a front. I knew what I was getting.”

Following dinner, the date continued in the parking lot where the two talked and talked like they had known each other for years. Before they knew it, an hour and a half had passed.

And how about this? They went on a second date the very next day, this time getting together for pizza.

“I think the biggest thing with the start of our relationship was that he lived in Lower Burrell and I was in Canonsburg, so the distance between us was something that was tough. Because even if you’re free, that’s an hour drive over there. We said let’s take advantage of the free night we have the next day,” Slagus recalls.

Belle Vernon girls basketball coach Kaitlyn Slagus shows off her ring following her engagement to Avonworth girls basketball coach Nick Dizon on Aug. 11, 2023, at The Capital Grille in Downtown Pittsburgh. (Submitted)

When Dizon moved in with Slagus last March, those long drives to see one another quickly became a thing of the past, but it wasn’t long after that when Dizon began preparing for a future event — a wedding proposal.

“We were talking about it earlier that week, and I knew it was coming soon, but I just didn’t know when it was going to happen,” Slagus remembers thinking on Aug. 11 of last year.

Dizon hoped to make the occasion as special as possible, so after purchasing an engagement ring he notified Slagus’ parents, John and Marie, and began to plan the memorable night, which took place at The Capital Grille in Downtown Pittsburgh. Slagus has a large family, and Dizon wanted some of her favorite people to be there. Their party included Slagus’ parents, her grandmother, and her younger sister Lauren and her boyfriend.

What Dizon planned on being a perfect night got off to an imperfect start.

“We told [the restaurant] what we were doing, and they put us in an area that wasn’t out in the open, but when we got there, there were little bears and hearts and congratulations on the table,” Dizon said.

When the waiter asked the group what they were celebrating, Slagus said her mom was quick to tell him that it was because they were celebrating her daughter Lauren’s boyfriend earning a scholarship.

“Honestly they had me sold on it, because initially I was like, ‘Are we sure about that? Is something else going on?” Slagus remembers thinking. “But then the whole dinner everyone was calm, cool, collected, and I wasn’t tipped off at all, to the point that I made a comment to my dad and Nick right before it happened. Because the last time we were at The Capital Grille, it was for my Bucknell graduation, and we went for birthdays one year. And they always bring out that really good dessert. I told them, because my mom and everyone else was in the bathroom, I said, ‘This is the first time I’m here and we’re not celebrating me. I want that good dessert.’ And then literally like five minutes later, Nick leaves and he comes back and proposes, and I was like, ‘Well, little did I know.’”

One important person who was not there was Slagus’ older sister, Jessica, once a star player herself at Belle Vernon who now lives in South Carolina. But Dizon made plans to FaceTime with Jessica when he popped the question. Dizon needed to time things perfectly, and his execution was excellent. He took a stroll to the bathroom after dinner, and upon his arrival back at the table, he was asked by Slagus’ father how his meal was. That signaled that it was time for Dizon to get down on one knee.

“I was shocked,” Slagus remembers. “I obviously said ‘yes’ and was super excited, but my first thought was that they were playing a joke. It was like, ‘Is this happening? Am I being punked?”

Dizon and Slagus will tie the knot Aug. 31 at Linden Hall in Dawson, not far from where Slagus grew up. The wedding planning is going well, Slagus said, adding that they were able to get a good chunk of it done before the basketball season began. Sitting at the top of the to-do list now are ordering the wedding cake, sending out invitations, and Dizon and his groomsmen being fitted for their suits.

Slagus found her dress rather quickly back in October despite the fact that she said she’s usually not very good when it comes to making big decisions. After falling in love with one, she had her parents meet her at the bridal shop the following day to get their input.

“My dad started crying when I put it on, so I said, ‘That’s the one,’” Slagus recalls.

This sets up to be a nice-sized wedding, with about 225-250 guests being invited. Slagus’ sisters, Jessica and Lauren, will be co-maids of honor, while Dizon’s longtime friends Anthony DiNinno and Johnny Carroll will be co-best men. Dizon and Slagus’ dog, a 3-year-old rescue named Coco, will serve as the ring bearer.

This technically won’t be a basketball-themed wedding, but there will be a lot of basketball people in attendance who have played special parts in Dizon and Slagus’ journeys. Among those that will be invited are Slagus’ Bucknell teammates and coaches her senior season, as well as her coach in Ireland and a family she grew close to while living there.

“It will bring back everybody together that has been a huge part of our lives,” Slagus said.

Slagus’ family has been a huge help, Dizon said, and the story of him meeting her fiancee’s extended family is a humorous one. It happened in November 2022 when Slagus’ grandmother invited everyone over for a pizza party and to watch Belle Vernon play for a WPIAL football championship. Belle Vernon’s opponent? Avonworth.

“There’s 25 people rooting for Belle Vernon and I have my Avonworth shirt on,” Dizon said, laughing.

“I definitely gave him kudos for doing that,” Slagus said.

Belle Vernon defeated Avonworth for the title that season and did the same thing last season, as well.

Belle Vernon coach Kaitlyn Slagus has guided the Leopards to the postseason each of her four seasons. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The schools haven’t played each other in a girls basketball game since Dizon and Slagus have been there, but they said it’s something that has been discussed and it could happen in the next few seasons. They did get together for a tri-scrimmage along with Woodland Hills prior to this season.

“It was a lot of fun,” Slagus recalls. “I think the girls got excited for it because they knew, ‘Uh-oh. Coach’s fiance is on the other side.’”

The two coached a team together in the Mon Valley Independent Summer Basketball League last year. Slagus was the head coach and Dizon her assistant. They plan on coaching in the league again this summer, only they will flip those roles.

But before then they both hope their high school teams will make some noise in the postseason. The expectations are a little different. Avonworth is a WPIAL championship favorite, while Belle Vernon will likely be an underdog in any game it plays.

Avonworth, section champion for the second season in a row, is giving up only 32.6 points per game and features two of the top players in Class 3A in senior forward Rebecca Goetz and junior guard Greta O’Brien. The battle-tested Antelopes own five wins against teams from larger classifications, as well as victories against Class 3A Beaver Falls and Class 1A Union, both of which won section titles.

“We have more offensive threats than last year,” said Dizon, 39-7 in two seasons. “We have eight different kids that have scored in double-figures. We move the ball extremely well and we shoot the 3-pointer well.”

Belle Vernon finished fourth in its section behind Elizabeth Forward, Laurel Highlands and West Mifflin. The Leopards have taken some lumps this season after graduating five seniors, three of them being starters but still found a way to reach the playoffs for the fourth time in Slagus’ four seasons. A season ago, the Leopards won a playoff game for the first time since 2018.

“They’ve been getting after it in practice,” Slagus said. “We know it’s a long season, but you could see the tears in their eyes after the last game when we knew the regular season was done. I think this group, they just don’t want to stop playing together.”

As for Slagus and Dizon, they don’t want to stop being together, so they did something about it — they got engaged. And in 198 days (there’s a countdown on their wedding registry website) this basketball-crazed couple will be married, and right after that they will be in St. Lucia for their honeymoon.

“There are a lot of different things I love about her,” Dizon said. “Obviously, the coaching thing is important. You have to be in that world to understand. She understands how passionate I am about coaching. The time that we spend together, whether it’s basketball or not basketball, is great. All of her characteristics remind me of my grandmother — selfless, patient, very kindhearted. But the main thing is she’ll be the one who brings out the basketball board to talk hoops, and that’s a great thing.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.