Winning 21 straight games is impressive enough, but the 2015-16 Archbishop Wood girls’ basketball team won with a killer instinct during its season-ending streak.
Those Vikings, who had just two games decided by fewer than 10 points during their final run, likewise won big all the way through the Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media girls basketball team of the decade bracket. Given the No. 1 seed in the 16-team field, Wood’s 15-16 squad rolled up four straight wins by 14 percentage points or more in the reader vote each round.
Even an all-Vikings final against the 2016-17 team didn’t slow the top seed down as the 2015-16 team won the title of Team of the Decade.
“That year started off really bad, but we all came together and realized it was not what we wanted,” forward Bailey Greenberg said. “Claire Bassetti and Shannon May were the other co-captains and the three of us tried to keep everyone together and on board and I think we won the PCL title at the Palestra, we knew we had it right.”
The finish, while impressive, needed some coaxing to get going that season. Despite reaching both the PCL final and PIAA 3A title game in 2014-15, Wood wasn’t able to bring home either trophy and graduated one of their top performers in forward Aubree Brown.
Wood still had plenty of firepower to go around however and more than ever, a desire to win a couple championships. A 2-0 start looked promising, but a seven-point loss to defending PCL champion Neumann-Goretti started a 2-6 skid that left Wood 4-6 overall and 1-2 in the league after a loss to Cardinal O’Hara on January 8, 2016.
“We just started to fight a little harder,” Greenberg, who would be named the 3A state player of the year, said. “We wanted it, but we had to be tougher and I think once one person started to do that, it started to trickle down to everyone else. We knew we were a good team, but we had to fight to show it.”
“The year before we had a strong leader in Aubree Brown so the first couple games, it’s not that we didn’t know how to fill the void, but we weren’t used to it yet,” Bassetti said. “Bailey and I being together a lot, not just during basketball, we began to talk to each other a lot more and confided in each other more which I think helped us connect and become better leaders.”
The Vikings rebounded to win three in a row, but again found themselves struggling on Jan. 17 when they went to the half trailing Penn Charter in a showcase at USciences. For Greenberg and especially Bassetti, it was time to take command.
Wood rallied behind its captains, topped the Quakers 52-40 and had established the start of a winning streak that would extend to the final day of the season.
“For me and Bailey, the mentality was ‘this sucks and we need to make it better,’” Bassetti said. “Personally, I think it was one of my better games. I’m not always a leader on the scoreboard, I was more of a creator at the point guard position so I think once people saw even I was getting on the scoreboard, they realized anybody could do it and it didn’t just have to be Bailey carrying our team.”
While the streak continued to grow, the Vikings weren’t much aware of it. Bassetti credited coach Mike McDonald for keeping the focus squared on the next game in line and for creating a practice environment that made games feel like an escape.
Greenberg echoed that sentiment. The forward added games were better than practices because the team’s compliment of guards including Shannon May, Cassie Sebold, Bassetti and Karly Brown would bother the opposing team and not her and the other Wood forwards.
“Mike had us competing, which was always good,” Greenberg said. “It makes it easier in the games when you go super-hard at practice. I categorized us as Shannon, Claire and Cassie were the three little guard pests while Katie May, Kate Connolly and me were more chill, we tried to stay under the basket and away from them.”
“We all wanted to be better and that fierce killer mentality came from practice,” Bassetti said. “Katie May and Kate Connolly were sophomores but I saw them as equals. Shannon, Cassie, Karly and Meg Neher, they were just like us. We were a team, it didn’t matter how old you were, we all loved basketball and wanted to win.”
A 35-point dismantling of Delaware state champion Urusline Academy served as the 10th straight win and had the Vikings on the right foot as the PCL playoffs approached. Despite their intense practices and internal competition, the Vikings did a good job of leaving it between the court lines and maintaining a tight bond off the floor.
Greenberg and Bassett were in the same circle of friends, Greenberg’s younger sister Nicky was on the roster and the Mays were her cousins, so it was easy for the team to build a family-like bond with each other.
“There was a lot of personal growth on the team and we all knew what needed to be done,” Greenberg said. “For me, I knew what needed to be done and I could do my part which was always more leading by example than vocally and I think it helped a lot of the younger players. Our underclassmen did a great job of playing for their seniors.”
Wood avenged its loss to O’Hara in the PCL semifinals and got another chance at Neumann-Goretti which brought a 53-game PCL winning streak with it to the Palestra. The game was a battle, but one Wood managed to claw away from victorious with a 40-36 win.
The magnitude of the game was evident from the opening tip and the weight of winning it impacted the players both in the moment and for the rest of the season.
“I always loved playing Neumann, those were my favorite games of the year and I loved playing at the Palestra,” Greenberg said. “What it came down to and what it showed was that other people started to step up and that’s why we had the success we had.”
“I remember with second left in that game, my hands were shaking on the foul line,” Bassetti said. “It was just so unreal in the sense Neumann hadn’t been beaten in 53 games, it was a lot longer than what our streak was and it showed it doesn’t really matter where you come from or what background you have in basketball. Our team was so connected, that’s what helped us get through all the hard games.”
With the state tournament next, Greenberg said it was important to get everyone focused on that next goal while also enjoying the PCL title. No one on the roster that season had won a state title and the Vikings had lost in the previous two PIAA finals, so the seniors wanted to finish the job.
They also started to feel unstoppable.
“After beating Neumann, we felt (unbeatable),” Bassetti said. “We felt strong. After that game we felt ‘we want to be stronger, we want people to fear us.’”
“I think it made us hungrier because we wanted to finish out the year on a winning note,” Greenberg said. “The previous two years, we were right there but winning the PCL gave us the confidence that we could do it.”
Wood did finish the job, although they had one more test in the quarterfinals against Gwynedd Mercy Academy in the only other game during the streak decided by fewer than 10 points. In Hershey, the Vikings stifled a 29-0 and nationally ranked Villa Maria team out of District 10 for a 46-29 win to cap the 21-game streak with a state title.
The senior co-captains both went on to play college sports, with Greenberg starring at Drexel while Bassetti was a four-year starter and all-conference player for DeSales’ women’s soccer team. Their time at Wood and especially the 2015-16 season stuck with both of them.
“It showed me perspective of what a team should be like,” Bassetti said. “My soccer team was nothing like that in college and it always made me miss not just our connection but having someone like Coach Mike who was helpful on and off the court and pushed us to be our best selves. I miss it to this day and wish I could go back and play another season with all of them.”
Greenberg, who was named the CAA’s MVP this season, felt her Drexel team was on the same path as that Wood squad before the COVID-19 virus cancelled the Dragons’ season.
“The winning culture was probably the biggest thing I brought from Wood to Drexel,” Greenberg said. “That team reminds me of our Drexel team this year with the way we bonded on and off the court. That’s why we had the success we did that season and I felt the same was coming for this Drexel team, it was the caring of each other on and off the court that really took over for us.”