In most cases, taking over for a bona fide coaching legend like Steve Lodovico tends to be a lose-lose situation.

If you struggle in your first year on the job, there’s a decent chance you won’t be back to see a second season. And even if you succeed, you’ll always be compared against your predecessor and held to seemingly unfair expectations.

Then again, every once in a blue moon, a new coach comes along and finds a way to uphold the lofty standard of the coach who came before them. In Greg Huston’s case, the only way to improve upon Blackhawk’s last season under Lodovico would be to steer his alma mater all the way to a state title — and that’s exactly what he and the Cougars did, finishing with a record of 27-3 while capturing the fifth PIAA championship in the program’s storied history.

For all he and his team accomplished this season, Huston is the 2023-24 Pittsburgh Union Progress girls basketball Coach of the Year. All coaches in the WPIAL and City League were considered for the award.

“Being able to win a championship is a great feeling, but at the end of the day, for me, it’s always about the relationships you form with the kids, your assistant coaches and everybody involved,” Huston said. “It’s easy to say because we won and we’re happy and we’re walking away as champions, but this was one of my favorite seasons of all time because of the kids I was able to work with.”

After playing in back-to-back state finals under legendary coach John Miller in 1999 and 2000, Huston began his coaching career in 2006 with a three-year stint at Neshannock. He then moved on to Beaver, where he spent the next 14 seasons uplifting the Bobcats from a perennial cellar dweller to one of the most consistent and successful programs in the area.

From 2009-23, Beaver won a total of 235 games, reached the playoffs in 13 out of 14 seasons, won five section titles, made three WPIAL championship appearances and captured one WPIAL title under Huston’s guidance. That WPIAL championship victory came in 2021, when the Bobcats rolled to the Class 4A crown with an unbeaten record before falling to mighty Cathedral Prep in a gut-wrenching PIAA quarterfinal clash.

The memory of that defeat still haunted Huston in the years since — at least until this past weekend.

“After the [Cathedral Prep] game, we sat in the locker room for like two hours. We were just in shock. We just couldn’t believe it. It was heartbreaking,” Huston said. “But to come back this year and be able to go the entire way and win it, it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe.”

He resigned from his post at Beaver following the 2022-23 season, citing a desire to spend more time around his children and watch them play more. He got the opportunity to do just that when the Blackhawk job opened up, as his daughter, Grace, is a reserve sophomore guard for the Cougars.

Getting the chance to not only win a state title in his debut season at his alma mater but also doing so with his daughter by his side and seeing the joy on her face when they won it all is the moment Huston said he’ll cherish most.

“I joked with my wife after we won — I said, the only way to go is down from here,” Huston said with a laugh. “It’s very gratifying to be able to do it at my alma mater with this group of kids and with my daughter on the team. It really is special.”

Blackhawk coach Greg Huston signals to his team members as they play against Scranton Prep in the PIAA Class 4A championship on Saturday, March 23, 2024, at Giant Center in Hershey. Blackhawk won, 56-44, for its fifth state title. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Although he initially had no intention of applying for the job at Blackhawk, Huston said the pressure from friends and family to go for it eventually got to him — in particular from Cougars assistant coach Ryan Brown, one of his closest friends.

“We’ve been friends since like seventh grade,” Huston said. “He was a big reason that I decided to even apply. And I told him, ‘I will not apply until you guarantee me that you’ll be my assistant.’ He agreed to that, and thankfully he was there on the bench with me all year long.”

Not many new coaches step into a situation with a team loaded with talent like Blackhawk, as the Cougars were returning four of five starters from last year’s team that reached the WPIAL and PIAA championship games — including star senior Alena Fusetti and standout sophomore Aubree Hupp. Still, with Blackhawk’s players determined to turn last year’s silver medals into gold, Huston had to earn their respect and establish trust with each of them while implementing his system in a hurry.

Fortunately for Huston, a lot of his coaching philosophies are similar to Lodovico’s — no surprise considering both honed their craft as players at Blackhawk under Miller.

“It’s hard to remember back 25 years what I felt like,” Huston said about winning a state title his junior season at Blackhawk in 1999. “I know we were ecstatic, I know we were pumped. But when you’re a player, you show up, you do your job, you do what the coach asks you to do, and you move on. As a coach, there’s so much more that goes into it. So much more behind-the-scenes work, scouting and game planning, putting together playbooks and on and on.

“You definitely put more heart and soul into it as a coach. At least I did, anyway.”

Blackhawk coach Greg Huston helped guide his alma mater to a 27-3 record along with a WPIAL runner-up finish and a PIAA Class 4A title in his first season as head coach. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The Cougars didn’t utilize a full-court press as much under Huston as they did in past years, but their top-notch defense was as suffocating as ever, ranking No. 1 in the WPIAL with an average of 28.8 points allowed per game. They went undefeated in section play and won their last 14 regular-season games following a narrow 37-35 loss at back-to-back PIAA Class 2A champion Kennedy Catholic on Dec. 21, earning a No. 1 seed for the WPIAL Class 4A tournament.

One-sided victories against Greensburg Salem and Laurel Highlands sent Blackhawk to Pitt’s Petersen Events Center for the third year in a row, where they clashed with two-time defending champion North Catholic in a battle of two of the WPIAL’s most prestigious programs. The memorable battle went into overtime, where the Trojanettes emerged victorious, 40-37, for their third consecutive WPIAL title.

Still, the Cougars’ dream of returning to the state finals remained intact — but getting back to Hershey would be no easy feat.

Blackhawk dominated its first three state playoff games to set up a PIAA semifinal showdown against undefeated District 3 champion Wyomissing, which knocked off North Catholic in the quarterfinal round, 61-46. Playing as a sizable underdog in the eyes of many, the Cougars controlled the game from start to finish en route to a convincing 47-31 victory.

Still, just making it back to the state finals wasn’t good enough. It never has been at Blackhawk, where the Cougars won their first four state championship appearances before losing in last year’s title game. Many viewed them as an underdog once again going into their PIAA championship matchup against Scranton Prep, the District 2 champion that steamrolled its first four state playoff opponents by an average of 26.5 points per game.

Blackhawk coach Greg Huston and sophomore forward Aubree Hupp celebrate near the end of the game against Scranton Prep in the PIAA Class 4A championship on Saturday, March 23, 2024, at Giant Center in Hershey. Hupp scored a game-high 21 points as Blackhawk won, 56-44. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Just like in the semifinal win against Wyomissing, Blackhawk established the tempo from the opening tip and never looked back, shutting out Scranton for more than half of the first quarter while building a comfortable double-digit lead. Scranton eventually battled back to cut the deficit to six in the fourth quarter, but the Cougars’ clutch foul shooting sealed the deal in a 56-44 win to bring home their fifth state title.

“I was there last year, I was up in the stands watching the game, and it was rough. It was rough for me as a parent, and it was rough for them. They talked about it pretty much every day throughout the course of the season,” Huston said. “To see the flip side of that is huge. I know how I felt, I know how they felt. The four-hour bus ride home, we all just kept talking about it the entire way. Just a great feeling.”

Hupp scored a game-high 21 points in the championship win, while Fusetti tallied a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds to cap off her tremendous career. And although the players always deserve the lion’s share of the credit — or in this case, the Cougars’ share — they couldn’t have done it without Huston’s calming presence and steady leadership on the sideline.

Now with 309 career wins, one WPIAL title and one state title to his credit in 18 seasons as a head coach, Huston has one more accolade he can add to his resume.

“I spent so many years down at Beaver, and we were rivals with Blackhawk all those years,” Huston said. “It’s just kind of surreal, because I never imagined that I would be in this situation. It’s still hard to believe. After spending so many years at Beaver, I never thought I would coach at Blackhawk.

“For it to work out like it did and to win, it’s somewhat of a storybook thing for me.”

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

Steve Rotstein

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