The Archbishop Wood girls' basketball team is collecting some national attention as the 2017-18 season gets underway.
Fresh off a second straight PIAA state title, the Vikings are ranked No. 15 in the USA Today's Super 25 preseason poll. It's the highest national ranking for the girls' basketball program in school history.
Last season, Wood (24-7) went a perfect 12-0 in the Catholic League during the regular season before falling to Cardinal O'Hara in the championship game. The Vikings responded by beating Mastery Charter North in the District 12 title game and then winning all five of their Class 5A state playoff games, including a 34-26 victory over Trinity in the final.
Last year's team featured seven seniors: Shannon May (University of the Sciences), Cassie Sebold (Chestnut Hill College), Shannon Kelly (Immaculata University), Emily Halloran (Immaculata University), Rhiannon Brodbine (Franciscan University), Meg Neher, and Karly Brown. Sebold averaged 10 points per game.
It was a very successful four-year run for Wood's seniors. After falling to Blackhawk in the 2014 and 2015 Class 3A state finals, the Vikings beat District 10's Villa Maria in the 2016 final. Wood moved to 5A last season with the PIAA expansion to six classifications.
The goal of winning the Catholic League and another state title remains the same for Wood, which has won two PCL titles and five state crowns over the last eight seasons. The Vikings have also won the District 12 title five times during that span.
"We have the same message every year. Play for the person next to you, and the team will play it's best," said Mike McDonald, who enters his third full season as head coach. "We have the talent to compete for championships again this year but only if we buy into playing unselfishly and defending as a team."
This season's squad is led by senior captains Katie May (14.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.0 apg), a Northeastern signee; Bridget Arcidiacono (8.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg), who signed with Thomas Jefferson; and Erin Morgan (3.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg). Nicki Greenberg is the fourth senior on the roster.
Look for freshmen Kaitlyn Orihel and Shelby Henches to have an impact, along with junior Annie Whalan, a transfer from Villa Joseph Marie.
Wood will have to battle its way through another tough Catholic League schedule. Neumann-Goretti won the 3A state title last season and has claimed three straight state crowns, while Carroll lost to Trinity in last year's state quarterfinals.
"Our focus is on finishing ahead of Archbishop Carroll, Archbishop Ryan, Little Flower and Hallahan to qualify for the 5A state playoffs first," said McDonald. "Neumann-Goretti will likely be one of the top teams competing for the PCL championship, but if we play well and together there is no reason we can't beat them for a third straight year. Cardinal O'Hara returns two Division I prospects, with a coach who has more than 800 wins, so it will likely be a competitor as well."
The Vikings start their Catholic League slate against Hallahan on Dec. 15th.