Bailey Greenberg stood tall holding a giant Hershey’s chocolate bar. No, really, a giant chocolate bar, courtesy of the hosts from Hershey’s Giant Center.
Minutes earlier, she and her teammates had defeated Erie’s Villa Maria High School, 46-29, in Saturday night’s PIAA Class AAA girls’ state championship. (See a photo gallery here.)
To say the victory was sweeter than the humongous chocolate treat is putting it mildly.
“It’s amazing how much goes into something like this,” said Greenberg. “You think of the hours you spend trying to get better. When it all comes together, it is hard to describe.”
Greenberg is one of only two senior Vikings; starting guard Claire Bassetti is the other. The rest of the crew is comprised of older-than-they-appear juniors and sophomores, and several of those underclassmen contributed mightily to Wood’s fourth-ever state title (the Vikings orchestrated a three-peat from 2010-12) in what was their sixth visit in seven years to the state’s marquee event.
Ask Greenberg and Bassetti a question and prepare to hear plaudits about the youngsters. Ask the youngsters, and they’ll rave about the veterans.
For coach Mike McDonald, who took over the program toward the end of last year and mentored them to two straight Catholic League championships – the Vikings stunned previously undefeated Neumann-Goretti in the Catholic League championship on Feb. 21 – and two state finals, team camaraderie has been a constant plus during his tenure that began with him as an assistant coach.
“I can’t say enough about the senior leadership and how the (non-seniors) have responded to that,” said McDonald. “The seniors don’t treat them any differently. The younger players look up to them for their leadership and they aren’t disappointed.”
Although Greenberg was outstanding despite often being double-teamed, finishing with a game-high 14 points, 13 rebounds and a pair of assists, steals and blocks, it was the play of the underclassmen that provided the knockout blow against a Villa Maria team that entered the contest 29-0.
Although sophomore Kate Connolly (eight points, four rebounds, four blocks), junior Shannon May (five points, four rebounds, two steals), and junior Cassie Sebold (seven points) also proved pivotal, sophomore Katie May, the younger sister of Shannon, turned the game’s momentum in the second quarter.
Trailing 8-5, May scored Wood’s next seven points and, combined with a basket by Greenberg, Wood took a 15-14 lead and never looked back.
“It was a good feeling to help out,” said May. “It took us a little while to get into a flow, but after we did, we played a lot better.”
Entering the final stanza, Wood led, 27-21. If Villa had any plans of a comeback, it quickly evaporated. Greenberg scored four quick points, and Connolly and Shannon May both drilled three-point shots. With 3:30 left in the game, the Vikings had commandeered full control as they led, 37-24.
Six late free throws increased their advantage to 46-27 inside the final minute.
When the buzzer sounded, the Vikings flooded the court, piling atop one another in utter glee. A season that had begun with a 4-6 record against national-level competition had ended with a 25-6 record, a 21-game winning streak and consecutive Catholic League, district and state titles.
“Winning the state championship is indescribable,” said Katie May, who collected eight points, seven rebounds and two steals. “I’m so happy for the whole team because it definitely was a whole team effort. Winning the final game after such a great season is just the way we wanted to go out.”
May was then asked about the two outgoing seniors.
“Bail and Claire really deserved it because they worked so hard and were really the best leaders we could have had,” said May. “It is an experience I will never forget and will cherish forever.”
About 20 minutes after her team’s celebration and a subsequent television interview, Greenberg discussed what may have been the most important game of her young career as she jaunts toward Drexel University next season.
Greenberg’s assessment was other-centered.
“The underclassmen really stepped it up,” said Greenberg. “They made shots and got rebounds and blocks. They stepped it up on defense. But they have done that throughout the season. They are the reason why we got to where we were.”
Among the onlookers were Wood athletic director Joe Sette and principal Mary Harkins. They could not have been more proud.
“These are great people,” said Harkins. “I really want to cry. I’m so happy for them.”
“It was through a lot of hard work, good coaching, and players believing in themselves,” said Sette. “They are a special group and deserved this. They played like champions.”
McDonald, whose assistants include his mother, Mary, a former Cardinal Dougherty head coach, fielded several questions regarding the fact that Wood had to sever undefeated records in both the Catholic League and state final.
He didn’t dwell on his opponents’ records.
“Winning the title is winning the title,” said Wood coach Mike McDonald. “It wouldn’t matter if that team is 10 and 10 or undefeated. As long as our team comes out on top, I’m pretty excited about it. Any team that gets here, it doesn’t matter what their record is. If they got there, they’re good.”
Unfortunately for those teams, Archbishop Wood was better.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.