Tonawanda News — The excitement of winning a state championship is hard to describe, but Sara DiPasquale, a senior forward at Cardinal O'Hara, fondly remembers the final moments before the game ended and her Lady Hawks were crowned as the best girls basketball team in the state.
"The final seconds everybody had goosebumps and everyone was just silent and thinking, 'We just won a state championship.' It was awesome," she said.
This season DiPasquale (North Tonawanda) said the Lady Hawks (14-0, 6-0) — who are undefeated and positioning themselves for another run at a state title — were a bit nervous entering the season after lossing News' co-player of the year Aaron Shabazz to graduation.
She said Shabazz's shoes were big ones to fill and coach Dan McDermott looked to DiPasquale to fill the void.
"At the beginning we were all nervous because Aaron was a huge loss for us, but I think because it's basically the same team from last year we meshed even more," DiPasquale said. "We're more of a team this year. We don't rely on just one or two superstars."
DiPasquale transferred to O'Hara after playing her freshman and sophomore seasons at rival Mount St. Mary because, according to McDermott, she wasn't very happy and a number of her friends played at O'Hara.
McDemott called her the finishing touch on a team that already had something very special going.
"It was a pretty good team to begin with and when she decided to come over it was kind of the finishing touches on a pretty nice product we can put on the basketball court," he said. "The kids get along so well and they all complement each other. It's been a great situation for everyone these past two years and we're trying to make the most of what we have."
Shabazz molded DiPasquale into the leader she has become for the Lady Hawks. The senior transfer has played varsity basketball all four years of high school, but it's been the example of her elder teammates that have helped her become someone the rest of the Lady Hawks look to as a leader.
McDemott said she is one of the hardest-working players on the team and her drive has helped her develop her game. She's a threat in the low post and her mid-range jumper has to be respected, he said.
She also runs the floor well and is one of the top defenders on her team. McDemott said her play on the defensive end in O'Hara's 55-46 win over Pennsylvania's Cranberry High School on Saturday was one of the difference-makers for the Lady Hawks. DiPasquale held Cranberry's top scorer, a 6-foot-2 center, to only nine points, which McDermott said is well below her season average.
She's also a vocal presence on the court.
"She is probably our most vocal player. We're constantly talking to the kids, trying to get them to talk it up more, especially on defense," McDermott said. "She's definitely our biggest contributor in that facet of the game. She directs traffic on the defensive end and she gives encouragement to everyone out on the court, as well as from the bench when she isn't playing."
DiPasquale has also helped bring along junior Kelsey McCarthy, whose play this season has solidified the frontcourt. The two go at each other every day in practice and have impacted each other, especially in games — DiPasquale is averaging 11.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while McCarthy is scoring 14.1 points and grabbing 8.1 boards.
Mercyhurst, University of Rochester, Oneonta and Daemen are all looking at DiPasquale, according to McDermott. No matter where she decides to go, she said she'll never forget what it was like to play on such a special team.
"I think this is definitely a team of the decade," she said. "Every game is fun and even the game's that aren't so close are. Having a memory of a state championship and coming into the season this year extremely motivated — I think we're all going to remember this for the rest of our lives."Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.