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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Archbishop Wood and PIAA State Titles - Perfect Together

By John Knebels, 04/04/24, 9:15AM EDT


Archbishop Wood 2024 PIAA State Champions

(Photo by Donna Eckert for PSD)

By John Knebels

(Photos by Donna Eckert for PSD)

HERSHEY – Today’s high school players probably never heard of the famous television show “Columbo” about a cigar-smoking detective who noticed oddities that few, if any, could even remotely discern.

From 1971 through 1978, and then from 1989 through 2003, the disheveled titular character donned in a wrinkled beige trench coat and askew tie would annoy everyone at the end of supposedly finished interrogations by saying “just one more thing,” leaving suspects and witnesses annoyed and a tad freaked out.

Which brings us, albeit in circuitous fashion, to Archbishop Wood’s girls’ basketball team.

After periodically viewing the final seconds of the Vikings’ 37-27 victory over Cathedral Prep in the PIAA Class 5A state championship March 23 at the Giant Center, something didn’t seem right.

The game itself featured Archbishop Wood doing what Archbishop Wood does best, resulting in the most dominant girls’ basketball program in Pennsylvania history acquiring yet another state championship plaque and King Kong-sized chocolate bar for a fourth consecutive campaign and a record ninth altogether.

Uncharacteristically falling behind, 7-0, and looking like Cathedral Prep’s average height of 5-feet, 10 ½ inches simply might be too much to handle for four Wood starters standing at 5-6 and the other at 6-foot, the Vikings’ brilliant coaching staff – led by six-time champion Mike McDonald – reached into their fully prepared goodie bag of adjustments and ultimately flummoxed the Ramblers to the chintzy allowance of 20 points over the final 28 minutes while somehow outrebounding the goliaths by 22-20 and out-assisting them by 9-4.  

Archbishop Wood Wins 4th Straight PIAA State Title. (Video Highlights/ John Knebels for PSD)

After Cathedral pulled to within a thoroughly uncomfortable 27-26 with 5:20 left in regulation, the Vikings dug their heels and only surrendered a harmless free throw while they methodically tallied 10 points.

The game over, celebrations on and off court complete, introspective interviews articulately provided, and McDonald getting doused with copious water in the locker room – a tradition he’s also experienced after his three PCL crowns, including needing two overtimes in February to thwart Archbishop Carroll at the famed Palestra – a glorious season closed its black, gold and green curtains and allowed Wood’s very busy athletic director Sue O’Neill to finally take a few breaths and concentrate on spring sports.

“I haven’t had much time to think about it honestly,” said McDonald, a recent new daddy of a little girl, last week. “I may go back and watch each of the championship games to reminisce.”

When he watches the latest celebration, he probably won’t notice that something appears out of order. Something subtle.

And after watching the final seconds over and over, it turned out that the thing that appeared peculiar wasn’t on the video – it was what wasn’t on the video.

Because as superb senior point guard Ava Renninger dribbled out the final seconds, she and teammates Lauren Greer, Emily Knouse, Alexa Windish, and Makayla Finnegan gently embraced each other in a display of calm, graceful camaraderie, pausing ever so slightly – it’s easy to miss – at the very end before giving into the euphoria of winning a game that, on paper, shouldn’t have been won.

So why such utter tranquility after a sensational accomplishment?

“I think there were a lot of emotions that went into the ending of that game,” said the Fairleigh Dickinson-bound Renninger, whose eight points, four assists, three rebounds, and steal came nowhere close to accurately assessing her importance.

In typical form, Junior Emily Knouse's clutch performance proved critical in Archbishop Wood's State Title Victory. (video/ John Knebels for PSD)

Wood seniors, Lauren Greer, Alexa Windish, and Ava Renninger laud their basketball program and head coach Mike McDonald. (video/ John Knebels for PSD)

“It was exciting, but since it’s the last year for us seniors, I think it was upsetting. We just wanted to take it all in one more time.”

Greer, who has decided not to play either basketball or soccer (she was the All-Catholic goaltender on the last two Archbishop Wood PCL championship squads) in college, frustrated Cathedral Prep by, pure and simple, outhustling them on numerous occasions.

En route to 10 points, eight rebounds, and zero turnovers in 30 minutes and 36 seconds of clutch contribution, Greer’s personal highlight reel occurred in a 31-second span midway through the third quarter. After tracking down a loose offensive rebound that should have been corralled by a Cathedral opponent, Greer passed to senior classmate Windish, who found Knouse for a three-pointer that tied the game at 21. After nabbing a defensive rebound and flying down the other end, Greer accepted a feed from Renninger and, in stride, drained a three-pointer to put Wood ahead, 24-21.

Head Coach Mike McDonald Gets victory Bath After State Victory. (Video/ JOhn Knebels for PSD)

Wood Head Coach Mike McDonald talks about 4th Consecutive Win. (VIdeo/ John Knebels)

Clearly finding their swagger, the Vikings never trailed again.

“Obviously winning the game was exciting and thrilling, but there was so much relief in knowing that we did it, and that we accomplished everything we wanted to for the season,” said Greer. “Not only that, but all the hard work we put in paid off in the end, and there was almost a sense of relaxation and comfort in that.

“I think another part is that it’s such an overwhelming feeling, and sometimes you’re not really sure how to act, which is kind of funny to think about, but very true in the moment.”

Following a neatly packaged 12-point, six-rebound, two-assist, one-steal stat line in her final contest as an underclassman, Knouse offered a theory about the Vikings’ uncommonly mature end-of-game reaction.

“I think we worked so hard to get to that point of the finals in states, and in those final seconds we were realizing our goal was coming true,” said Knouse, who has committed to St. Joseph’s University. “We were just so tired after hearing the final buzzer of our season and it was surreal that we won our fourth in a row. I think we were calm just because we had accomplished so much that it didn’t even feel real what we did, to be honest.”

Moving forward, a new crop of Vikings will attempt to make even more history as they pursue a fifth straight title. Along with first-team All-Catholic Knouse and sophomore Sophia Topakas (three rebounds, one assist, strong defense), freshman Makayla Finnegan figures to be an up-and-coming force.

In 19 minutes of action against Cathedral, Finnegan stood out mostly for her fearless defense, but her integral three-point swish with 4:14 remaining in the fourth quarter halted a 5-1 Cathedral run and increased Wood’s lead to 30-26. Finnegan joined Greer with a team-best, plus-12 point differential.

“That game was amazing,” said Finnegan. “That game is something I will never forget. I’m so proud of my teammates for all of their hard work and dedication.

“At the start of the game I was getting very nervous because we were down by seven points. When I got subbed into the game, my nerves went away and I was so happy to be able to play on that court and help my team however I could. I feel like I should have been more nervous, but since I got the opportunity to play in the Catholic League championship, it really helped my confidence for the state championship game.”

Case closed. No further witnesses.


Team gets surprise congratulatory visit after game from PA Governor Josh Shapiro. (VIdeo/ John Knebels)

Archbishop Wood head coach Mike McDonald pictured with PA Gov. Josh Shapiro. (Photo/ John Knebels for PSD)


(Contact John Knebels at or on ‘X’ @johnknebels.)