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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Archbishop Wood Edges Archbishop Carroll in PCL Championship for the Ages

By John Knebels (Photos/ Donna Eckert), 03/04/24, 11:00AM EST


Archbishop Wood 2024 Philadelphia Catholic League Champions (Photo/ Donna Eckert)

(Photos by Donna Eckert & Mike Nance/ Video/ Rich Flanagan & John Knebels)

By John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – Six days later, they’re still not entirely certain how to describe what they experienced.

Then again, the last time Philadelphia Catholic League players were asked what it’s like to win a championship in double overtime was . . .

Umm . . . never.

That all changed Monday night.

In the historic Palestra revved up like a Taylor Swift concert, Archbishop Wood edged Archbishop Carroll, 54-52, in the first double overtime game in PCL championship history.

After four ties, four lead changes, and a maximum advantage of six points, it took every second of the 40-minute classic to determine undefeated top-seed Archbishop Wood – making its 18th appearance in the PCL final and 15th in the past 18 seasons – as champion for the fifth time in school history, third since 2016, and second since 2021.

“I spent most of Tuesday exhausted and sore from the intensity of the game,” said Wood coach Mike McDonald, who won his third title. “I can not remember any of our championship games being that intense. The ending that seemed to never be coming . . . felt like it was on its way in victory, then in defeat, then in victory, then in defeat . . . with every play from the midway point of the fourth quarter through the end.”

Despite a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers and missing a pair of free throws with 25.1 seconds remaining in regulation, Wood senior Ava Renninger willed the Vikings through dangerous territory with her vocal leadership, floor orchestration, flawless ball handling, and scoring.

Of her game-high 22 points, the first-team All-Catholic drained eight-of-eight foul shots in the second overtime. The third freebie elevated Renninger to quadruple digits in career scoring. 

Archbishop Wood head coach Mike McDonald Poses with PCL Championship Plaque after net cutting ceremony. (Photo/ Donna Eckert for PSD)

But her final free toss provided significantly more importance, as it increased Wood’s lead to 53-49 with 18.6 seconds left and ultimately represented the decisive point of the epic contest.

“I’m very proud of my team for sticking it all the way out to the very end and giving it their all,” said Renninger, who will play at Fairleigh Dickinson University next year. “They had my back when I missed the free throws and gave us another chance at winning the game, and still put the ball in my hands.

“Coach Mike did a great job at keeping us focused throughout that whole game and trusting me to knock down some free throws. And also props to Carroll. They were one heck of a team, very well coached, and they did an amazing job. It could have gone either way.”

No disappointment that point number 1,000 didn’t come in a less-important game that could have been stopped for a brief celebration, per high school tradition?

“It’s definitely way more memorable in that setting for sure,” said Renninger, who added four rebounds, three assists and a block. “Nothing can compare to that atmosphere.”

Along with playing tenacious defense, particularly on Carroll senior PCL Most Valuable Player Brooke Wilson, Wood senior third-team All-Catholic Lauren Greer scored eight points but, more integrally, hauled 12 rebounds back home to Warminster.

“I have always been very in sync with rebounding because I feel like it’s a huge part of the game,” said Greer. “Something I always say before the game in our huddle is ‘No Second Chances.’ I feel like it’s something I know I can count on doing in the game whether I’m scoring or not.” 

Archbishop Wood senior captain Ava Renninger scored her 1000th point in PCL Championship Game. (Photo/ Donna Eckert for PSD)

On Wednesday night, Greer re-watched the game start to finish. Several of her teammates confirmed they had done likewise.

Greer’s initial insight illustrated the essence of the PCL’s sixth all-time overtime affair and fourth since 2012.

“Even though I knew the outcome, I was on edge,” said Greer, who in the fall goaltended the Wood soccer team to its third consecutive PCL championship. “I thought Carroll came out strong, aggressive, and prepared, and really tested us. After watching the game again, there were so many moments where you realize the game could have gone either way, and I believe that’s what made the experience even more memorable. It’s honestly so surreal the feeling that a basketball game can give you, but it’s a feeling that I am happy to say I got to feel and a feeling I will never forget.” 

In yet another clutch performance in a season filled with them, Wood junior first-team All-Catholic Emily Knouse contributed 15 points, six rebounds, two assists, and a block. In the fourth quarter, Knouse tallied six points that helped give the Vikings a 41-38 lead. Her rebound with three seconds left in regulation prevented Carroll from a third attempt at a game-winning shot. Knouse then opened the scoring in overtime with a pair of free throws.

Two days earlier, Knouse and her father had attended a victory by St. Joseph’s University on Hawk Hill, where she will play in two years. In a marvelous “photograph that speaks 1,000 words” captured by Philadelphia Sports Digest’s Donna Eckert, Knouse leaped into her dad’s strong arms for an emotional embrace during the net-cutting ceremony.

Wood Jr. Emily Knouse shares emotional embrace with her father after net cutting ceremony in PCL Championship Final.

“I’ve re-watched the game a fair amount of times now and I was biting my nails every time I watched, even though I knew the outcome,” said Knouse, echoing the earlier commentary by Greer. “The entire game was back and forth and honestly, I didn’t know if we were going to pull it out. It seriously could’ve gone either way. Everyone knew it was going to be a good game since we nearly lost to them in the regular season (a 51-46 comeback win by host Wood on Jan. 20).

“I give a ton of credit to Carroll’s players and coaches. They defended us really well and seemed to change up their game plan a little bit on us. Brooke did a great job getting to the basket and dishing. Olivia Nardi (nine points on three three-pointers) and the McFillin sisters (senior second-team All-Catholic Felicity, junior Maddie, and freshman Abby, who combined for 19 points) hit some game-changing shots on a huge stage.”

PCL Title Game Archbishop Wood vs. Archbishop Carroll (Championship Highlights by Rich Flanagan for PSD)

Despite Wilson’s stalwart 12 points, five rebounds, and seven assists, and first-team All-Catholic sophomore Alexis Eberz’s 12 points, five rebounds, and two steals, Knouse’s teammates emerged victorious.

“Ava kept us in the game,” said Knouse. “I’m really proud of her and all of my teammates. Everyone chipped in, and even in some aspects that don’t get marked down in the book. Lauren Greer is one of the toughest defenders I know and seriously held her own on Brooke. Alexa Windish had a clutch three and foul shots to keep us going, and Sophia Topakas had an enormous steal to get Lauren a layup in the OT. Everyone did their jobs and contributed to this win, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with another group of girls.”

During the postgame media conference, the Kutztown University-bound Alexa Windish thought she only had converted one basket. She was a tad mistaken.

Archbishop Wood Post Game Press Conference L to R Lauren Greer, Ava Renninger, Alex Windish & Emily Knouse. (video/ John Knebels for PSD)

Archbishop Wood Players describe OT Tension In Post Game PRess conference. (VIdeo/ JOhn Knebels for PSD)

Turns out that the second-team All-Catholic secured three buckets – including a three-pointer one minute into the fourth quarter that supplied Wood a 35-32 advantage, its first lead since an 8-7 advantage midway through the first quarter courtesy of a Renninger trey. Along with two baskets and two free throws – a game-tying duet that sent the game tied at 32-32 heading into the fourth, but far from final, stanza – Windish finished with nine points.

“It’s still honestly surreal,” said Windish. “I haven’t been able to put the feelings I have into words. I’m just thankful to have had this moment with such amazing people. I’m excited that our season is not over and we have a chance at winning another (state) championship.

“There were a lot of classmates and teachers congratulating us on our win. Everyone also talking about how fun that game was to watch. We were lucky to have so much of our school come out to watch and support us.”

Referring back to Knouse’s acknowledgment of sophomore Sophia Topakas’ major donation, the game was tied at 43-43 when Topakas intercepted a Wilson pass between Carroll’s basket and center court. With Wilson backpedaling, Topakas dribbled the ball to the other end before dishing to Greer for a layup with 2:12 remaining in the first overtime.

Take away that play, and Archbishop Wood might not win the PCL title. 

“At the moment of the game it was really close and tense and I knew that defense was really going to secure and win it all,” said Topakas, also a member of the aforementioned three-time-defending champion Wood soccer team. “We all have put in countless hours for this exact moment. When I saw Brooke Wilson pass the ball and her teammate who I was guarding turn and run the opposite way, my first instinct was to grab that ball and go, and so I did.

“Always someone who hustles on both sides of the court, Lauren Greer was running down with me. I knew she would finish the layup because of the trust I have in her and the many times at practice where we’ve done very similar drills.”

After the tie-breaking basket, the Wood fans exploded while teammates jumped from the bench.

“The atmosphere of the Palestra is truly something spectacular,” said Tapakas. “Hearing a sold-out stadium of thousands of fans cheer for you is a wonderful feeling. It’s . . . truly extraordinary. You think you know what it’s like by hearing stories of people who have been there, but you never really get to understand how surreal it is until you fully experience it yourself.

“The feeling of hearing the buzzer go off and looking up at the scoreboard and being on the right side is a feeling like no other. As the days have passed since we won, I truly cannot wrap my head around it. I have never played in an environment like that before, and I’m so beyond happy I was able to.”

Freshman Makayla Finnegan now gets to share a PCL championship with her sister Delaney, who graduated last year after having won as a sophomore in 2021, though that game was played at Archbishop Carroll because the pandemic had left the Palestra unavailable.

“What I think really helped us pull away the win was the energy that the whole team brought,” said Makayla. “That and all of Ava’s foul shots to put us in the lead at the end.” 

Now playing at St. Thomas Aquinas College in New York, Delaney was thrilled for her sister and former teammates.

“Last year we fell short, but I had so much faith in the team to bring it home this year, and they did,” said Delaney. “I am also so proud because we lost so many seniors last year, but each one (of the returning players) stepped up and did what they needed to. I was also so excited that my sister got to experience winning at the Palestra in her first year of high school. 

Archbishop Wood Celebration After Winning PCL Championship. (Video/ John Knebels for PSD)

“Although I would have loved the experience of winning at the Palestra, I was still so proud of the team my sophomore year, because it was still a PCL title no matter where it was won.”

Wood has already advanced past PIAA Class 5A District 12 foe Freire Charter and now will concentrate on capturing a fourth straight state crown.

Although the Vikings’ total focus has moved from the thrill of a PCL championship to another lofty goal, McDonald allowed himself a detailed reminiscence of seizing a historic achievement.

“I have always appreciated how much of a tremendous experience it is to be part of the PCL championship at the Palestra, but I forgot just how special it feels to win there,” said McDonald. “It is hard to put into words, but the roller coaster of torment, agony, and stress of the game is incredibly worth it.”

McDonald then pinpointed numerous key moments of a game that will live on with unmitigated distinction. It allowed a fascinating inside look at what a coach goes through during such a beautifully maddening sporting event.

Then his thoughts turned to his obviously dejected adversary. Ecstatic to have won, McDonald understands bitter defeat.

“As the emotions of winning have calmed, I have spent more time thinking of our opponent than I ever thought I would,” said McDonald. “I really like and respect the Carroll coaches and the players who I have met in passing off the court as well. Knowing the feeling of losing at the Palestra all too well, I have empathy for them for what they may be going through, and I hope they all can respond in states.” 

McDonald completely comprehends what Eberz means when she says the game was “just frustrating, but a great experience,” and how she would “just do literally anything to get that layup back and make it this time,” referring to a potential game-winning basket near the end of regulation that somehow – almost surreally – didn’t find twine.

Or the sincerity in the words of Carroll coach Renie Shields.

“What a classic PCL championship game,” she said. “Playing at the Palestra, in front of a sold-out crowd, does not get any better. Unfortunately, one team had to lose – and it was us. Congratulations to the Archbishop Wood team.”

Classic basketball game with classy participants.

It doesn’t get any better than that.



(Contact John Knebels at on Twitter @johnknebels.)