HERSHEY >> Meg Neher wouldn’t let go of the ball, tied up on the floor late in the game.
Karly Brown wouldn’t let go of the trophy, the protector of what she and her teammates had worked five months for.
Two seniors, both captains, both integral pieces to Archbishop Wood’s state championship season and both very good at doing their jobs without much fanfare. The mark of a really good team is players recognizing a role and committing themselves completely to it.
For the Vikings, none were better at it than Neher and Brown.
“They have been so important,” senior captain Shannon May said. “Meg, she isn’t tall but you think she is because she gets in there, gets rebounds and always guards their big girl. She does the little things. We rely on her for so much and people don’t realize it.
“Karly, she comes off the bench and you know she’s going to give it her all and knock down shots when she needs to. Both of them, you know you’re going to get their best every game.”
Both Neher and Brown were influenced quite a bit by their parents.
After winning the state title last season, the Vikings were hit by graduation and a handful of players transferring out of the school. It left Wood a little short and a little thin at the forward positions. The Vikings knew they could count on juniors Katie May and Bridget Arcidiacono but without much more experience, Wood coach Mike McDonald knew exactly who he would ask to help out.
He would ask Meg Neher.
The senior, who was a bench player last season, doesn’t cut an imposing figure. The official book lists her at 5-foot-8 but she routinely gives up a few inches to the players she’s asked to cover. She also fought for six rebounds in the state final and one crucial tie-up in the final two minutes that led to a Trinity turnover.
“We’re a little undersized this year so I knew someone was going to have to rebound and set screens,” Neher said. “I was just really focused on that. I didn’t really focus on scoring, I wanted my teammates to score. I just worked on the little things all season, I knew what I had to do.”
The best word to describe Neher is tough. She had to be to take on some of the assignments she had, to dive on the floor after loose balls and to stand in and take the contact setting a screen.
McDonald said Neher’s best attributes are her toughness, her unselfishness and her knowledge of the game. She played without fear or hesitation and didn’t try to play above her means.
“Meg Neher is one of the toughest kids I could possibly coach, she does all the dirty work with no complaints,” McDonald said. “She’s the coach’s kid, you don’t see much when you’re watching as a fan but when you’re a coach, you really understand what she does.”
It’s not easy for a lot of players to willingly throw themselves in between two opponents trying to get the ball. Neher did it without a second guess. Her late tie-up on Saturday was huge and she was the one who forced the late tie-up that sealed Wood’s regular season win over Neumann-Goretti.
Neher’s toughness has been instilled from an early age. Her mom, Marie, played college ball at Holy Family so as Meg said, “she knows what she’s talking about.” Sometimes, diving after a loose ball hurts, but Neher knows not to think about it.
“My mom has always told me to be tough,” Neher said. “She taught me to be tough in grade school. I always see her in the stands, she’s always telling me to box out. I play for my mom.”
The senior tried to send that same message to the Vikings’ underclassmen this season. She told them when they got on the floor, play tough and do whatever they could to help the team win.
“My teammates are awesome, I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” Neher said. “I don’t even think about it because I know if I got the ball, it was a good thing. I just went for it.”
Her teammates call her “President” to mess with her.
But make no mistake, Karly Brown is a leader. She came off the bench all season, usually the first guard to come in, and the senior had no problem with it. That President title is more than a nickname, Brown is the head of Wood’s Student Council.
She was a pretty good role model for the rest of the kids coming off the bench.
“Personally, that’s where I’m more comfortable anyway,” Brown said. “I feel comfortable coming in and picking up where they started. I’ve always loved that role and embraced it. Everyone’s done a good job anyway so I never felt a need to start.”
Brown, who is also an excellent golfer, started playing hoops at a young age and inherited her passion for the game from her dad, Ken.
“He loved it, he played in high school and I grew up with him as my coach,” Brown said. “He got me into it and I stuck with it because he made it really fun for me. There was no pressure for me and I loved doing it. I grew up playing AAU, travel and CYO, had a lot of fun doing it and I attribute that to my dad.”
Life as a bench player is one of variables. They never know how many minutes they’ll play in a given game, if they’ll have a chance to score or who they’ll be on the floor with. In the state final, Brown only played about five minutes but had her share of big moments throughout the postseason.
In Wood’s semifinal win over Susquehannock, the Vikings started out very slow and it was Brown who made their first shot and helped settled the team down.
“She’s been huge that way really for three years that when we need a shot, she comes in and gets a shot,” McDonald said. “She got us on the board to show us we were going to be ok and that’s what she throughout her career at Wood. When we weren’t doing anything, she could knock down a shot and put points on the board for us.”
Given the nature of her role, Brown learned how to make the most of every second she was on the floor. A good outside shooter, the 5-foot-6 guard was also good at taking the ball to the rim with force and could run Wood’s patient offense with any four other players around her.
This season, she also tried to be more of a leader not just to the whole team but especially the bench. Even if that cut into her minutes some by the end of the year, Brown said she was proud of the way the underclassmen earned more playing time because they were listening to what the seniors were telling them.
“It sounds surprising but I think the hardest thing coming to high school is learning how to play as a team,” Brown said. “You learn that not everyone is a star and you have to find ways to glue yourself together as a team. I think we did a good job teaching them how to do that and it paid off really well.”
Balancing two sports, plus Student Council President and a high school workload taught Brown plenty about time management just as her role on the team did in a different way. Being part of a successful team sometimes means giving up a spotlight role, but Neher and Brown were happy to do it given where it got them.
“I’m probably not going to play in college, so that was likely my last basketball game ever,” Brown. “Personally, that’s a great way to finish. I cried at the end of the game and the reason that happened was these girls have become my best friends and just knowing I could finish off playing basketball with these girls with the perfect moment was a great moment to have.”
Shannon May wasn’t going to pass up the chance.
Aside from the trophy, which Karly Brown held firmly in both hands, the Vikings also got a giant Hershey’s bar and the net to go with it. Cassie Sebold swept in to grab the candy bar. But the net hadn’t been claimed after coach Mike McDonald separated it from the trophy.
Last season, McDonald did his postgame talk with the net around his neck but this year, he asked if anyone wanted to take it. May, standing right there; spoke right up and claimed it.
“I said ‘I want it’ and grabbed it,” May said. “No one’s taking it back now. Maybe I’ll hang it with a little picture.”
There was plenty of net to go around, but May joked she wasn’t going to share any of it with her sister.
“Not with Katie,” May said with a laugh. “Maybe Cassie or Meg.”
Sebold, ever the opportunist, knew the five-pound block of chocolate had its uses.
“They all wanted the trophy so I said I’d take the candy bar,” Sebold said, smirking. “It makes for good pictures.”