Basketball season doesn’t commence until November, but that’s just the official starting date.
Arguably more than in any sport, basketball is played year round – at least by those who plan and hope to take their game to higher and higher levels of competition, eventually ending in a college scholarship.
For Archbishop Wood rising seniors Ava Renninger and Alexa Windish, the thousands of hours they’ve devoted to the game since they were little kids has resulted in being offered and accepting an invitation to their next destination.
Renninger, a 5-foot, 6-inch point guard, committed to Fairleigh Dickinson University. Windish, a 5-6 shooting guard, will play at Kutztown University. In the meantime, both players will be team captains for Archbishop Wood coach Mike McDonald and try to continue an amazing run of success for a Vikings program that has reached the Philadelphia Catholic League championship 14 of the past 17 years and has captured a state championship three straight seasons, five of the past eight, and eight overall.
“Both of them earned this,” said McDonald, who this past year was named coach of the year by the Pennsylvania girls’ basketball all-state committee for the fourth time in his eight full seasons. “They’ll both go out and do great things.”
With their college decision solidified, McDonald said both players could now relax much more and simply focus on enjoying their high school experience without the anxiety of the unknown festering internally.
“There is sometimes a noticeable but subtle change in that they play a bit more free and are not looking to force scoring, as players often do when being recruited,” said McDonald. “The stress level decrease is more noticeable when a player goes from not having any college options to having offers on the table.
“Players who are heading in the direction of Division II or Division III tend to have the toughest time because those coaches tend to recruit more into the late junior and senior seasons. As a player, you can start to feel as though you’re not going to get a college opportunity when in reality, those D2/D3 coaches focus more on the upperclassmen. Division I tends to recruit kids earlier.”
Renninger, who transferred to Wood as a sophomore, said she had always wanted to “go to the biggest school” before realizing that the size of the college did not necessarily offer her what she wanted.
After she formally committed to FDU, the second-team All-Catholic and second-team all-state selection felt a palpable sense of peace.
“It’s such a big relief because now I can just play without worrying who is watching and being stressed about that,” said Renninger, who plans to major in the health science field. “Now I can just play and have fun without that extra stuff and stress. It’s a relief to have secured my spot for the next four years, so I can go into senior year freely.”
Renninger has developed a reputation for performing particularly well in clutch situations.
In last year’s 61-54 PIAA Class 5A state championship win over South Fayette at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA, Renninger scored a game-high 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting while adding five rebounds and three assists. In a brutally tough 50-47 PCL championship loss to Lansdale Catholic at the Palestra, Renninger amassed 11 points, four rebounds, two steals, and an assist.
“Ava has been all you can ask for in a player and person,” said McDonald. “She works her butt off, competes every day, and has a great attitude while doing it. She plays to win, in that she makes the right basketball decisions on each play, so that makes it easy for me to trust her on the court.
“Off the court, Ava is just as trustworthy. She is usually doing something off the court you would support as a parent or coach. She goes and supports the other sports teams. She helped Wood field a flag football team this season. She earns academic honors every quarter. Or she is in the other gym – the weight room – where it seems to be ‘leg day’ pretty often, or maybe they’re just the sore days.
“I expect Ava to continue to be Ava from now through her time at FDU. She will work until she gets what she wants, and then she will continue to work to keep it, all the while being a great teammate and an all-around good human being, albeit a competitive one.”
For Windish, a graduate of St. Andrew’s grade school in Newtown, Kutztown had been a leading candidate for her services as soon as the school showed interest.
“I kind of felt all along that Kutztown was the place for me, but I made up my mind about midway through my final AAU season with the Mid-Atlantic Magic,” said Windish, who will major in the health field. “I’m so excited to attend Kutztown University and have the opportunity to play basketball for Coach (Janet) Malouf and Coach (Justin) Hallman, who have built an amazing program.
“It’s a great feeling being locked in to a great college program ahead of my final season. It is a huge relief and it enables me to focus 100 percent on my final season at Wood, where we intend to make another run at the PCL championship and go for the four-peat state championship.”
At Wood this coming year and at Kutztown thereafter, Windish will bring consistent shooting accuracy, especially from three-point land (45.7 percentage last year) and the free-throw line (78.6).
“Alexa Windish is someone I always describe as a person who ‘gets it’ when it comes to playing basketball,” said McDonald. “Sure, she works her tail off all season and off season to get better and she clearly loves it, but at the end of day, she knows there are more important things than just this game.
“She prioritizes family when she should. She prioritizes being a regular high school kid and enjoying herself when she should. She has a good balanced perspective on life, and I think that’s what makes her well liked by many in the program and outside of it. She doesn’t take herself or a game too seriously, and yet still she competes as hard as anyone and is committed to being successful and helping our team be successful.
“We have seen sparks of Alexa Windish this past season and I expect those sparks to ignite her senior year. Kutztown is lucky to have Alexa join their team and community, and I expect them to do well together when she is there.”
Former teammate Kara Meredith, who graduated in June and is a month away from commencing her own collegiate academic/athletic experience at Holy Family University, applauded both players for their commitment and sacrifice.
Renninger and Windish, said Meredith, are “some of the most deserving people” and were “great teammates to me when I was lucky to play with them.”
“Ava going to FDU is so exciting because my best friend since we were young, Bella Toomey (2023 Penn Charter grad), is going to be a freshman there this year, so it’ll be cool to see them play together,” Meredith said. “And Alexa will be playing with my cousin (Archbishop Wood 2021 graduate Noelle Baxter) at Kutztown, so it really is a small world.
“I’m so excited for them and can’t wait to see all they accomplish, not just in college, but also in their last year at Wood. I just hope they enjoy it and savor their senior year, because before they know it, they will be heading off to college like me.”
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