skip navigation

GIRLS BASKETBALL: After PCL Semifinal Win over Nazareth Academy, Archbishop Wood Returns to Familiar Territory

By John Knebels, 02/25/24, 2:15PM EST


(Photos by Donna Eckert)


By John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – Eight minutes. 28 points.

If anyone needs validation of the Archbishop Wood basketball team’s potential lethality, examine the second-quarter footage of the Vikings’ 63-45 Philadelphia Catholic League semifinal win over Nazareth Academy Tuesday night at St. Joseph University’s University City campus.

“Closing out the second quarter was really important,” said senior Alexa Windish. “We went in the second half with a pretty good lead, but we knew that it wasn’t going to be easy the rest of the game. We knew Nazareth was going to fight back. They’re a good team. They’re scrappy. So we just wanted to finish out the game as best we could on defense and handle our business on offense.”

If they can summon the same tenacity on both sides of the ball as they did in the second quarter against Nazareth, the Vikings would be extremely difficult to defeat when they take on Archbishop Carroll in Monday’s 6:00 PCL championship at the Palestra.

After the five-seed Pandas – a first-year PCL team that finished fifth in the regular season and beat Neumann-Goretti on the road by a misleadingly close margin of 45-43 in the quarterfinals – scored the last eight points of the first quarter to forge a 10-10 tie, the Vikings’ second quarter consisted of six three-pointers, a pair of two-pointers, and a perfect six-of-six from the foul line. Six different players scored during those scalding hot eight minutes, with Windish and senior Ava Renninger both contributing seven points while sophomore Sophia Topakas added six.

Archbishop Wood vs. Nazareth Academy in PCL Semifinal game at St. Joseph's University. (Highlights by John Knebels for PSD)

“I am very fortunate to be on a team where there are so many girls with offensive abilities,” said Windish. “Knowing my teammates can come up with big shots allows me to be able to focus on running the offense and the defensive side of my game. I have the confidence that anyone on my team can make the shot.”

Wood’s final statistics painted their typical “pay it forward” technique.   

One of four Vikings to finish in double figures, floor general Ava Renninger accrued 18 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Junior Emily Knouse (13 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals), senior Lauren Greer (six points and five boards), Windish (10 points, three rebounds, two assists), and Topakas (10 points three assists, two steals) balanced the scales.

Archbishop Wood senior Alexis Windish is prepared for the PCL final. (video/ John Knebels for PSD)

Head coach Mike McDonald compliments opponents after game. (video/ john knebels)

Superbly coached by 2005 Nazareth Academy grad and former St. Joseph’s University star guard Mary Kate Magagna, the never-say-die Pandas actually outscored the Vikings by 38-35 in the first, third, and fourth quarters thanks mostly to junior Abby Rock’s 19 points.

“We are definitely proud of what we have accomplished this year,” said Nazareth junior first-team All-Catholic Reese Power. “I think we made a name for our program. This is our first year in the Catholic League, and I think everyone knows we are here to play and are not just another team. We are coming back next year with five seniors that have started since freshman year. We are confident, we have the chemistry, and I think we can only grow and get better from here on out.”

Nazareth Academy junior Reese Power reflects on semifinal defeat. (Video/ john knebels for PSD)

Nazareth Head Coach Mary Kate Magagna lauds her Team's semifinal effort. (Video/ John Knebels for PSD)

With the victory cemented, Archbishop Wood needed to immediately re-focus its collective energy on Archbishop Carroll. Though it certainly shouldn’t matter in the short term, Carroll has been a thorn in Wood’s side in PCL finals. The Patriots defeated the Vikings in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2019, the last two necessitating overtime. Wood beat Carroll in in 2011.

Participating in the PCL final for the 14th time in the past 16 seasons, Wood won’t be wowed by simply making the finals and aiming for the program’s fifth overall title, fourth since 2011, and third since 2016.

“It’s a great accomplishment to play in the finals,” said Knouse. “We were at the Palestra last year, and as everyone knows, we didn’t win it. I know especially myself and the seniors are so excited to be able to come back, so we’re taking this opportunity and using the experience from last year to work as hard as we can to hopefully win.”

In last year’s tear-jerking, 50-47 loss to Lansdale Catholic, Renninger’s spectacular all-around effort – 11 points, four rebounds, two steals, one assist, great ball control – went for naught.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University-commit anxiously awaits an encore.

“I love those type of environments,” said Renninger, a first-team All-Catholic. “I feed into it. I love when there are more eyes on the game and it’s packed and loud. That’s just always been a type of environment I love. At the start of the game there are lots of nerves and excitement, but when the game starts, you can start to tune it out and focus on the game.”

Lost amid the hoopla of the Vikings’ undefeated season and playoff celebration, Wood coach Mike McDonald etched his 200th career victory in the semifinal win over Nazareth Academy.

True to form, McDonald downplayed his accomplishment and deflected plaudits onto those who helped him reach an impressively rare milestone.

“Honestly, I am just grateful to have been able to coach at a place like Wood for 260 games,” said McDonald. “I’ve been fortunate to coach many great people who have committed themselves to be great teammates and players. It is a special place to play and coach.

“The semifinal win could have been win six or win 800, and I would be just as excited because our kids get to experience the Palestra. I know how special the PCL championship night is down there, so knowing another group of kids I love earned the opportunity to experience it is emotional each and every time. I am thrilled for this group.”

(Contact John Knebels at on X (formerly Twitter) @johnknebels.)