One team will be looking to make history this weekend at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The other will be looking to keep it going.

Either way, when Armstrong (21-4), making its first WPIAL title-game appearance in school history, meets two-time defending champion South Fayette (17-8) at 5 p.m. Saturday with the Class 5A crown on the line, both programs will have historical precedent in their own right at the forefront of their minds.

 “We’re breaking new ground,” Armstrong coach Jim Callipare said. “We had our first playoff victory ever in that first round there, and then we played very well against Lincoln Park and then we continued it.

“We’re right where we thought we could be,” he added of his team, which knocked off previously undefeated and top-ranked Oakland Catholic in the semifinals. “The great thing is, we are happy to be there, but we’re not satisfied. The girls want to finish it off the right way.”

For the Lions, the goal will be to keep their success going.

In addition to winning the past two Class 5A WPIAL championships, South Fayette advanced to the PIAA title game for the first time in school history a season ago.
Despite losing standout guard Maddie Webber, now at Villanova, and dominant forward Ava Leroux, currently a freshman at Elon, Lions coach Brian Bennett said questions surrounding his team’s chances to return to the WPIAL’s grandest stage began about a season ago.

“I know a lot of people asked me last year, ‘When they leave, what’s going to happen?’” said Bennett of the impact of Webber and Leroux’s graduations. “I constantly told them, ‘We have a ton of talent.’”

Senior guard Lainey Yater (11) is one of the leaders for two-time defending WPIAL champion South Fayette. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Led by senior guard Lainey Yater and junior guard/forward Erica Hall, in addition to standout sophomores Juliette Leroux and Haylie Lamonde, South Fayette is back in a familiar position after earning an upset against No. 2-seeded McKeesport in the semifinals.

“It just took a while to put together,” Bennett said. “It was a brutal schedule because I set that schedule up for last year’s team and we had to return the favor to everybody, and they wanted a piece of us this year, for good reason. It battled-tested the kids and something just clicked the last three regular-season games for us.

“We had a couple of scrimmages before the playoffs started, and it just looked like a different team. Hopefully we can keep it rolling.”

And that most certainly will mean relying upon the Lions’ experience.

“If Haylie and Juliette were somewhere else, they would have started as freshmen for most [Class] 5A or 6A schools with the talent they have,” Bennett said. “They bought in, they came, they worked hard at practice. It was valuable for Juliette going up against her sister [Ava] and Haylie going up against Maddie. So, they got the benefit of the practice experience, not as much the games.”

Senior guard Emma Paul, who averaged 21.5 points per game in the regular season, is the key for Armstrong.

“I don’t even know if one word can sum it up but she’s phenomenal if there is a word,” Callipare said. “She’s just such a tough kid. She’s so skilled. She had a great work ethic. She never misses practice. She’s a great team leader. She’s someone that’s coachable. She’s just the whole package.”

For the River Hawks to win their first WPIAL championship, though, Callipare said his team will need legitimate contributions from each member of its seven-player rotation.
The play of senior forwards Kyla Fitzgerald, Sarai Weaver and Kali Allensworth also will be critical, Callipare said.

“I look for them to be the leaders,” he said.

And that will mean helping their team get off to a good start.

“We have to weather the storm early,” Callipare said. “Those first maybe four or five minutes of the game we don’t want to be like a deer in headlights. We want to be able to manage the first few minutes of the game.”

Class 4A

History will be repeating when No. 1-seeded Blackhawk (22-2) and North Catholic (16-7) meet for the second consecutive season in the WPIAL championship, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday.

North Catholic, which won the matchup of the postseason rivals a season ago, already boasts a record-22 WPIAL championships. The two-time defending Class 4A champion Trojanettes are in the title game for the 10th consecutive year and have won six of the past seven championships.

Now in her 26th season coaching North Catholic, Molly Rottmann has won 11 WPIAL championships. She will be looking to dethrone the Trojanettes coach who she played under, Don Barth, for the most WPIAL championships all time with a victory Saturday.

For Blackhawk to hold off North Catholic, it must first find a way to stop Alayna Rocco from getting to the basket. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

“It’s never blasé or another big win, it’s the WPIAL championship,” Rottmann said. “Our kids are excited. They’ve wanted to get there, that was step one, and now they want to win that. They want to come back in [our] gym and say that they earned that banner up on the wall. I think it’s a big deal regardless of if it’s your first time or whatever number. It’s a big deal and our kids are competitive.”

The Cougars will be looking to capture their ninth WPIAL championship all time. Only North Catholic and Vincentian, which has won 11 titles, have more in school history.

“I think there’s obviously a healthy level of respect for [North Catholic],” said first-year Blackhawk coach Greg Huston, who was at Beaver for the past 14 seasons and won a WPIAL title at the school in 2021. “There’s also that revenge factor. They got Blackhawk last year in the championship game. They repaid the favor in the state semis but that championship medal means a lot. We’d certainly like to exact some revenge for sure.”

Mercyhurst recruit Alena Fusetti averages 16.2 points per game to pace the Cougars offensively, while 5-foot-11 forward Aubree Hupp also averages 13 points per game.

“Fusetti is their leader,” Rottmann said. “She’s a really good player. She has deep range. She can get to the rim. She’s experienced. I think it starts with her. Obviously, Hupp, the sophomore, is really good as well. I think starting with those two is key but I’m not being dismissive of anyone in their lineup. They’re all returners and will play hard and know how to win.”

Alayna Rocco, meanwhile, averages a team-high 19.2 points per game for North Catholic, while Brady Wehner — sister of Central Catholic standout quarterback Payton Wehner — averages 10 points per game.

“North Catholic, they’ve won all these championships for a reason and that’s because they’ve had a bunch of great players and a great coach as well,” Huston said. “They provide a lot of challenges but at the end of the day you’ve got to find ways to eliminate what they like to do offensively, it’s a lot of drive, kick, dribble-drive. You’ve got to defend those drives but they can step out and hit the 3s as well.

“You’ve really got to work hard,” he added, “play good team defense.”

Class 1A

Rob Nogay led Union to its first WPIAL and PIAA championship a year ago. In his return to Petersen Events Center, the Scotties coach will be looking to keep another school from achieving the first of those same feats.

Top-seeded Union (18-5) will have plenty of experience on its side when it defends its WPIAL title against No. 3 St. Joseph (21-3) in the championship, which is set to tip off at 11 a.m.

“I couldn’t be happier and more proud of our kids,” Nogay said. “I think with the kids we have returning, they know what to expect. They’ve been through it and now they know what’s coming. They know what leads up to the game now.”

Union’s Kelly Cleaver (10) is averaging a team-high 15.6 points per game. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Seniors Kelly Cleaver and Kylie Fruehstorfer, who were named all-state a season ago, again lead the charge for the Scotties. Cleaver is averaging a team-high 15.6 points per game, while Fruehstorfer adds 13.7 points per outing.

“They mean a ton to our program for sure,” Nogay said. “They’re building blocks for us, obviously. Kelly is a player that is going to play on both sides of the ball. Her offense takes care of itself. Normally when Kylie is playing defense, she is playing well for us and that makes us go.”

Frostburg State recruit Julie Spinelli, a 5-foot-11 guard/forward, leads St. Joseph, which won WPIAL playoff victories against Class 1A powerhouses Bishop Canevin and No. 2-seeded Aquinas Academy, the WPIAL runners-up from a season ago.

“Spinelli is probably the best in Class A,” Nogay said.

Senior Anna Kreinbrook, a 6-foot-2 forward, will also provide plenty of matchup issues, Nogay said.

“When you get down to this point you have teams that are really good,” he said. “It’s just another great experience for them. I just want them to go down and compete.”

Pittsburgh Union Progress staff writer Brad Everett contributed to this story.

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at