Alena Fusetti was driven to win a PIAA championship, wanting to do it for her teammates and coaches along with her school and community.

But also driving this Blackhawk senior standout were the comments, not ones from opposing players or random people on social media, but from her family, most notably her mother, father and aunt.

Each of them had won a PIAA championship at Blackhawk — something Fusetti fell short of doing when the Cougars reached the final her junior season — and they never missed a chance to remind Fusetti of that (all in good fun, of course). So, after earning one final chance to become a golden girl Saturday, and with her golden family members in attendance, Fusetti knew what to do. 

“I was just like, ‘I don’t want to hear these comments for the rest of my life. This is the one time we’re doing it,’” said Fusetti, a 5-foot-10 guard and Mercyhurst recruit. “And the motivation from last year. These were my last 32 minutes with the team, so I was just like, ‘We’ve got to end it.’ I couldn’t leave without [the title].”

Fusetti walked out of the Giant Center with a giant win, as her 18 points and 10 rebounds helped Blackhawk defeat Scranton Prep, 56-44, for the PIAA Class 4A championship, Blackhawk’s fifth overall and first since 2015.

Blackhawk’s Alena Fusetti was fired up to win a first PIAA title, and she and her teammates came through with a triumph against Scranton Prep in the Class 4A championship. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The title came 25 years to the day that Blackhawk, guided by then first-year coach Dori (Anderson) Oldaker, won its first championship, beating Montoursville, 71-54, in the Class 3A final in 1999. Senior twins Jodie (Knotts) Fusetti and Jamie (Knotts) Reynolds played on that team. Or as Alena knows them, “mom” and “aunt.”

“It means everything because she’s honestly the reason I’m the player I am,” Alena said of her mom. “She coached me when I was younger. Her and my aunt, they have a gym they run together. And just to do it for them, honestly, meant everything. And my dad.”

Jodie started and finished with six points and three rebounds in that PIAA final in 1999, while Jamie saw some time off the bench. Becky Davison led the Cougars with 19 points and Lisa Miller added 15 points, 9 steals and 8 assists. Montoursville star Kelly Mazzante scored 19 points in the game. She went on to star at Penn State before a pro career that saw her win two WNBA titles.

While that Blackhawk team was a great story, Alena’s father, Mark, is quick to bring up that his wife, sister-in-law and now daughter own just one title apiece.

“For the record, I have two. Just have to throw that out there,” Mark said, laughing.

Mark Fusetti was a junior and senior on the John Miller-led Blackhawk teams that won back-to-back PIAA Class 3A titles in 1995-96. Blackhawk defeated Pottstown, 64-59, in 1995, and beat Valley View, 67-55, in 1996. A 6-foot-4 forward, Fusetti came off the bench and saw minutes in each game, scoring four points in the 1996 final. Steve Dickinson’s 24 points and 11 rebounds propelled Blackhawk to gold the first year before Jim Cantamessa scored 30 points to lead the Cougars to the PIAA repeat.

“It’s a lot more fun to play than watch. It is nerve-wracking,” Mark said. “People don’t understand how hard it is to get to this point. That you can never take for granted. Just the amount of time you put into it.”

Alena Fusetti scored 18 points and added 10 rebounds in Blackhawk’s win against Scranton Prep in the PIAA Class 4A championship. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Jodie Fusetti coached her daughter and the other five Blackhawk seniors for most of their careers, beginning on an AAU team in fourth grade. Her husband was the assistant coach.

“We kept telling them, ‘You’re going to be [in the state final], you’re going to be [in the state final]. Just keep working hard,’” remembered Jodie, an assistant coach on Blackhawk’s PIAA title team in 2015. “Seeing that journey, the adversity, the losses, and just how much they went through, and then to end it here ….”

Added Jamie, “Just watching Jodie coach her from the time she could dribble a basketball was really incredible. Just to watch her feed into that and just be able to end her high school career the same way that her mom did is pretty cool.”

Upon graduating from Blackhawk, Jodie went on to star at Division III Marymount University. She helped the team reach a Final Four and is in the school’s athletic hall of fame. Jamie also attended Marymount, where she was a lacrosse standout, and later became the team’s coach. The sisters now co-own and operate Reign3D Training Academy in Beaver Falls.

Alena Fusetti’s younger sister got to take part in the PIAA championship experience, too. Mya Fusetti is a sophomore and team manager. Mya claims to have never missed one of Alena’s games. Their other sibling, Marco, is an eighth grader in the district whose father said will be a player to watch in the future.

Speaking of the future, now that Alena has a state title, she doesn’t expect to hear any more comments from her other PIAA gold medal-winning family members.

“There’s not going to be any more comments,” Alena said, smiling. “I have one now.”

Imani Christian junior R.J. Sledge won his third consecutive PIAA title when the Saints defeated Berlin Brothersvalley for the Class 1A championship. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Six for Sledge

Imani Christian’s R.J. Sledge is speedy and shifty, but when each season slows down and eventually ends, it’s not hard to find him. He’s always been holding the championship trophy.

Sledge, a 5-11 junior point guard, increased his collection of WPIAL and PIAA gold medals to six after finishing with 22 points, 8 steals and 6 assists in a 79-52 win against Berlin Brothersvalley in the PIAA Class 1A championship. Sledge won WPIAL and PIAA titles as a freshman at Bishop Canevin before helping Imani Christian win both the past two seasons.

Considering no team from the WPIAL has ever won three consecutive PIAA championships, there’s a good chance Sledge is the first WPIAL player to win three straight. He was a starter in all of the games, too.

“I think it’s time for him to start being mentioned as one of the best to ever come out of the state, especially if we can go ahead and cap this thing off next year with a 6A state championship,” Imani Christian coach Khayree Wilson said of Sledge, who has offers from Fordham, Canisius and North Carolina A&T.

Imani Christian has elected to play in Class 6A next season, so Sledge ending his career with eight gold medals will be a difficult task, to say the least.

But if the Saints do win both WPIAL and PIAA gold next season?

“That would be good,” Sledge said. “They’ll have to put me in the hall of fame.”

Lincoln Park’s Brandin Cummings was one of the biggest stars of the PIAA championships, scoring 37 points to lead the Leopards to a second consecutive Class 4A title. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Lincoln Park vs. Imani

It’s sometimes interesting to think how a state championship team in one class would fare against one from another, like if Pennsylvania had a Tournament of Champions similar to the one held in New Jersey for many years. Well, there’s no need to think about how a dream matchup would play out between back-to-back PIAA champions Lincoln Park and Imani Christian. After all, the two met in a regular-season game last month.

Lincoln Park and Imani Christian are now among only 10 teams from the WPIAL to win back-to-back PIAA titles. And back on Feb. 10, Lincoln Park used a second-half rally to defeat Imani Christian, 83-74, in a postseason tuneup at North Allegheny. Imani Christian led, 57-47, midway through the third quarter before Lincoln Park stormed back. Brandin Cummings scored 27 points, and Meleek Thomas added 26 to lead Lincoln Park, while Nate Brazil paced Imani Christian with 31. Lincoln Park also topped the Saints, 77-74, to open the 2022-23 season.

There’s a respect between the two programs and coaches, who each said they fully expected the other to once again end up as state champs.

“I knew they’d be up there,” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said. “In Single-A basketball, nobody’s beating them. I knew they’d be here. I knew it. Someone said Berlin Brothersvalley is good. I never saw them, and I said, ‘They’re not Imani.’ Because they gave us everything we could handle when we played them. They were up 10 on us.”

Wilson, Imani’s coach, echoed those sentiments, adding that he’s known Cummings since the latter was 10 years old. Wilson said he is good friends with Cummings’ father, Renell. 

“I knew they’d be coming out there with a chip on their shoulder just like we were,” Wilson said. “It’s always respect and love with us and also coach Mike Bariski. He’s a good guy. We talk a lot. We’re pulling for them just like they were pulling for us.”

Aliquippa’s Brandon Banks (1) and Cameron Lindsey (hugging father Dwight Lindsey) greet fans in the stands after their win against Holy Cross in the PIAA Class 2A championship. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Champion Cam

There have been loads of star athletes at Aliquippa over the years, but few have won as much as Cameron Lindsey, who wrapped up his terrific career by scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds to help the Quips defeat Holy Cross, 74-52, for the PIAA Class 2A title.

A 6-foot-2 senior, Lindsey was a force in football and basketball throughout his career, twice earning all-state honors in football and once in basketball (a second such honor is likely coming soon). He was also the PUP’s football player of the year his senior season. And while the individual success was great, the team success was even more impressive. Lindsey finished his career with five WPIAL championships (three football, two basketball) and three PIAA championships (two football, one basketball). On top of that, he also played on four other Aliquippa teams that finished as runners-up (once in WPIAL football, once in PIAA football and twice in PIAA basketball).

Lindsey will soon graduate and begin the next step of his career as a football player at Pitt, but he knows how he would like people to remember him from his Aliquippa days.

“‘I was a winner’ is one thing I can definitely say because of the amount of championships we won,” Lindsey said. “Just the way I played. I just went out and played my hardest no matter who we played against, and I was always trying to give my best.”

Franklin Regional point guard Cooper Rankin went head to head with Connecticut point guard recruit Ahmad Nowell of Imhotep Charter in the PIAA Class 5A championship. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Rankin vs. highly ranked PG

Imhotep Charter’s Ahmad Nowell was one of the most highly regarded players to take the court at this year’s championships, as the senior point guard is a Connecticut recruit ranked among the top 40 players in the country.

Needless to say, Franklin Regional senior point guard Cooper Rankin had his hands full when he drew the assignment of guarding Nowell in the Class 5A championship.

“I’d say he was pretty tough,” Rankin said of Nowell, who also owned offers from Kansas and Kentucky. “He’s not super fast, but he’s shifty with the ball. And he can make almost everything he shoots.”

Nowell scored a team-high 20 points in Imhotep Charter’s 59-48 win, which improved the Panthers to 10-0 all time in the PIAA finals. But Rankin more than held his own against the strong and physical Nowell, who was 8 of 19 from the field and had only 10 points for the first 3-plus quarters before scoring 10 more in the final 5:33. Rankin finished with six points.

“I think it was good for me playing against a top-level recruit like that,” said Rankin, who is being recruited by Division III schools. “I’m going to go play basketball somewhere, so it’s good to know the competition that you’re going to have to play with at the next level.”

Blackhawk’s Piper Romigh (30) and Haley Romigh (25) celebrate their 56-44 win against Scranton Prep in the PIAA Class 4A championship. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Twin titles

If two of the key contributors in Blackhawk’s championship win looked familiar, it’s because they’re not only sisters but also twins.

Haley and Piper Romigh are 5-10 starting senior guard-forwards who combined to score 11 points. Haley tallied six points and Piper five. Piper actually scored the game’s first points and Haley netted four straight Blackhawk points during an 8-0 second-quarter run.

The Romighs became the first set of twins, boys or girls, to start for a WPIAL team in a PIAA championship win since Austin and Connor Ryan helped the Moon boys capture the Class 5A title in 2019.

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

Brad Everett

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