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Winning four-mula! Another title for Wood girls



Sometimes, the “O” carried the 2023-2024 Archbishop Wood Vikings. They averaged nearly 60 points per game over their District 12 title win and first four PIAA victories.

During Saturday’s 5A girls basketball state title game in Hershey’s Giant Center, it was the “D.” The Vikings (26-5) held District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep to just 27 points in a 37-27 win.

“By the time you get to the state championship, everyone is excited to be there but exhausted,” coach Mike McDonald admitted. “We were concerned with some of the high-low sets they ran. They had a size advantage.”

This is Wood’s fourth straight state title and ninth overall. The Vikings won every PIAA game by double digits. The Vikings carry a 15-game win streak, and an almost hard to believe 20-game PIAA win streak, into next season.

“It’s a tremendous commitment from everybody, especially the players who are sacrificing a lot of other things to get better at basketball and be with their team,” McDonald noted. “It’s a lot of hard work and you have to be a little lucky along the way but being surrounded by so many people willing to put in the time is a blessing.

“You have to make shots and stay healthy. Every year you think there might be a game where we don’t get things going and another team knocks us off,” McDonald continued. “We work hard to put us in a good position so we can do it over and over again.

“A lot of it is teamwork and having the same common goal, which was winning it all this year. Another thing is showing up every day to practice even if you don’t feel like it: in the summers or on the weekends,” noted senior Lauren Greer. “We all stay after practice and get shots off.”

Wood initially did not have a sweet time in Hershey. The Ramblers (23-4) opened with a 7-0 lead.

Wood retorted with a 9-0 run and the squads entered halftime knotted at 16.

“We were all super nervous at first,” senior Alexa Windish shared. “Once we got into rhythm, it gets a lot easier for us to settle into the game.”

“We started to press a little more when we got down early. We made them play more on the perimeter and I think that helped us,” McDonald shared.

All-state Jayden McBride’s jumper gave the Ramblers their high water mark: a 21-18 lead. Emily Knouse and Greer answered with two triples in a 23-second span; Greer’s put Wood up for good at 24-21.

“Being down 7-0 definitely hit hard,” Greer said. “When the score was 7-6, I knew we had a chance. Erie could have come back at any minute. That pushes us to keep working hard.”

Prep cut the lead to 27-26. Freshman Mikayla Finnegan answered with a three with 4:17 remaining. It started the 10-1 run that closed the game. Windish added four free throws and Ava Renninger sank an insurance jumper.

Knouse’s 12 points led Wood. Greer tallied 10 points and eight rebounds. Renninger added eight points and four assists. Windish scored four while Finnegan sank a big three.

“Our entire team is unselfish. No one tried to do it all themselves,” Windish noted. “We have a lot of trust in each other and if somebody was off, we have depth where someone can take over. We have girls who don’t get mentally down on themselves. We all pick each other up.

“Coach Mike was really great this year,” Windish added. “Knowing we had a young team, he pushed us to be the best we could be.”

Wood will also enter next year as the defending Philadelphia Catholic League champion. Renninger and Knouse were selected to the All-PCL first team. Windish was tabbed for the second team and Greer, who doubles as keeper on Wood’s PCL champion soccer team, was an honorable mention.

Viking alumnae Deja Evans (Albany) and Kara Meredith (Holy Family) had excellent freshmen years at the college level, but it left holes at Wood. “We had seven seniors last year and all were 5-8 (tall), 5-9 and above. This year’s team is the opposite,” McDonald pointed out. “One kid is 5-11. The rest of our key players were 5-6. But we did it the same way. It just looked a lot different because we were smaller.

“We defended, rebounded, shared the ball and played the game as a team. It’s a lot harder to stop a team who moves it and the open kid takes a shot than to focus in on one or two players,” McDonald added.

“We gained seven or eight freshmen. We were such a young team this year that I felt many people thought Wood wouldn’t be as good as we used to be. In past years, we had stars,” Greer pointed out. “This year, there was no star. I have to give the freshmen credit: they worked so hard to make us better and we pushed them to make them better. That is what made this year so special.”

“Losing seven seniors was a big change. Those seniors showed us how important it is to have a close team,” Windish said. “I was touched by how close they were. We wanted to carry that from last year. This year was special because we wanted to show the younger girls that if you welcome people in, you can do anything you want with your season.”

“This program is a year-round commitment but it is so rewarding in the end,” Greer concluded. “You win championships and you have a second family. Basketball has brought us all closer together.”

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