COLLEGEVILLE >> Ava Renninger gets more done from 6-8 a.m. than many people will get done in a day.
Archbishop Wood coach Mike McDonald certainly appreciates the lengths that Renninger is willing to go to in order to hone her skills on a basketball court, enough that he can get past the early wake-ups to open the gym each morning for her. The junior guard, now in her second season with the Vikings, has dealt with some challenging circumstances off the court this past year but has only funneled that into her early hours of hard work, with the results showing.
Renninger certainly put it on display Sunday with a terrific all-around game as Wood defeated Penn Charter 54-41 at the Hoops for Hope Classic held at Ursinus.
“I’ve always tried to work hard as much as I can because that’s the only thing I can control,” Renninger said. “I go for the loose balls, I have to make all the other toughness plays that any other bigger players are going to do. You just do anything you can off the ball, on the ball, go after steals, rebounds, anything that will help you win.”
At 5-foot-6, Renninger knows not much is going to come easily for her on the court so she just counters it by putting in the hours when nobody – save maybe one tired coach – is watching. Against the Quakers, Renninger had 12 points, six rebounds and a game-high seven assists as she tried to help the Vikings run through offense against a Penn Charter team that’s loaded with talent and a match-up problem for most teams.
Anyone that overlooks Renninger as a small guard is missing out. She’ll get in the air to rip down rebounds and she goes to the basket as strong and confident as anyone, finishing quite a few tough drives against Penn Charter’s long and athletic wing players on Sunday.
“Even at 5-foot-6, she’s strong,” McDonald said. “That’s the way she plays too, she’s got that hard-working mentality. She’s got a little bit of flair at times on offense but she’s huge for us because she handles pressure. She’s able to put it on the floor, get around people and make good decisions.”
Getting the opportunity to go up against a team like Penn Charter or No. 1 nationally-ranked Long Island Lutheran, which will do on Monday, plus the battles atop the Philadelphia Catholic League were what drew Renninger to Wood. As a freshman she played for Central Mountain High School in Mill Hall, PA, just a short drive from Lock Haven, where she was a standout contributor right away averaging 13.8 points, six assists, five boards and three steals per game and helping the Wildcats to their best season in years.
With her parents’ work situation changing to allow for some flexibility, the Renningers were finally able to make a move they’d wanted to for a few years and relocated to Lower Makefield. Renninger knew Pennsbury had a strong basketball program if she went to public school, but thanks to a family tie, she got to know a lot about Wood’s program and liked the level of competition it offered.
“We have a family connection, my brother’s college coach is actually Coach Mike’s brother-in-law and he had mentioned Archbishop Wood as a school down here with that kind of strong basketball team,” Renninger said. “”I knew it would be competitive and that’s what I was looking for.
“Coming in, I was a little worried about fitting in, but this team has been so welcoming and as soon as I got here, they made it like a second family for me and I couldn’t have had an easier journey transitioning into a new high school and team.”
Jumping in to a program coming off PCL and PIAA titles, Renninger fit right in with her new team and found a role as a top reserve while Wood repeated as the PIAA 4A champions last year. She was gearing up for another summer with her Central PA Dynamite AAU team and looking forward to plenty of early work-outs when the unthinkable happened.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, the Renningers’ residence and several others were destroyed in a fire. While her family fortunately was not home at the time of the incident, they lost everything in the blaze and are currently in temporary housing until their residence can be repaired.
“We were away visiting family out near Pittsburgh, thank God, but it happened and there was nothing I could do about it,” Renninger said.
Without consistent access to a gym or court, Renninger asked McDonald for help getting access to Wood’s facilities to keep up her workouts. McDonald called the guard a “no-nonsense” type of person and he knew if Renninger said she’d be there for a 6 a.m. workout, then she’d definitely be there.
“She’s in there; lifting, ladder drills, ball-handling, shooting, doing it all,” McDonald said. “That was her choice, trust me, I would have rather slept in another hour or two. It’s worth it, I have to get up for work at some point anyway and I never want to deny a kid that wants to be in the gym so it was certainly worth being their to open the gym up for her.”
“It’s usually two hours in the gym, I’m putting up shots, off the ball drills,” Renninger said. “It changes every other day, some days off the ball, sometimes stationary, a lot of ball-handling then after that I’d probably get a good lift in.”
Renninger, who made a few starts last year before settling into a role as a bench spark, said the biggest adjustment was on the defensive end. With her Central Mountain team, she could freelance a lot more on the defensive end, chasing the ball and hunting for steals where the upper tier of PCL opponents will punish that kind of approach so she worked hard to let positioning and help dictate her defense.
With the Vikings unfortunately losing senior co-captain Allie Fleming to a season-ending knee injury, the team needs Renninger’s skills even more going forward. Both Renninger and McDonald noted Fleming’s experience, leadership and shot-making is impossible to replace on the court but there key times on Sunday where Renninger looked the part, especially on the corner three she hit in the final seconds of the third quarter to salvage an otherwise messy frame offensively.
“I love what she’s putting out there for us right now,” McDonald said. “It’s going to be huge for us down the stretch in the big Catholic League games and when we get into states. We just want her to keep doing what she’s doing and focus on keeping it simple at times. I think she’s looking for a home run at times and we just her to recognize when it’s there or it’s not there, especially in the games where that one possession can be the difference-maker.”
With each challenge or change – making a move, changing high schools and teams and losing her home – Renninger has always looked at basketball as a refuge, a place to put all of that to a productive use. There’s more of that coming, her AAU program is merging with another for the upcoming season so Renninger said she may be switching organizations and college programs are starting to come her way, so it’s just more to consider, more fuel for the next early-morning wake-up.
“It’s definitely been a lifelong dream of mine to get to the next level,” Renninger said. “That’s the reason behind those 6 a.m. workouts, I’m trying to push myself because I’ve always wanted to get there.”
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 10 27 7 10 – 54
PENN CHARTER 13 9 11 8 – 41
AW: Ava Renninger 5 0-1 12, Deja Evans 3 2-2 9, Delaney Finnegan 2 0-1 5, Kara Meredith 5 2-2 14, Emily Knouse 4 0-0 11, Makayla Duffy 0 1-2 1. Totals: 19 5-8 54
PC: Kaylinn Bethea 2 0-0 5, Bella Toomey 1 0-0 2, Aleah Snead 7 2-2 16, Ryan Carter 3 4-4 10, Gracie Shoup 1 0-0 3, Liv Vieira 2 0-0 5. Totals: 16 6-6 41
3-pointers: AW – Knouse 3, Renninger 2, Meredith 2, Evans, Finnegan; PC – Bethea, Shoup, Vieira
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