As far as Kaitlyn Orihel had come, she wasn’t going to falter at the end.
With Villa Maria’s slow style keeping Orihel and her Archbishop Wood teammates from getting out and running at halftime, the senior guard decided it was time to lead her team to the state championship it had come to Hershey to win. The last 16 minutes of her time in Vikings colors were vintage Orihel and it ended with her holding a state championship trophy to check the final box on a career bucket list.
Orihel and her team put together a perfect ending to an imperfect season and after a record-setting and championship finish, the senior has been selected The Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the 2021 season.
“I think it’s finally starting to all sink in, but it still doesn’t seem real that I’m not going back,” Orihel said. “In my head, I’m thinking it’s our usual two-month break before open gyms start up again. It’s been an emotional couple days for sure, especially the first day or two right after, looking at all the pictures and texting with the girls.”
Orihel, who was also selected the All-Area Player of the Year last season, will graduate from Wood with an impressive resume. The 5-foot-10 guard finishes her career as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,462 points, a four-time first team All-PCL selection and after the last few weeks of her run, a PCL and PIAA champion.
The Villanova recruit averaged 15.1 ppg for the Vikings this winter, adding 4.0 rebounds,2.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game in her senior season. She scored a game-high 25 points in the PIAA Class 4A title game, with 20 coming after halftime including all 10 of her team’s third quarter markers.
While the stage may have been different, it was a finishing drive Wood coach Mike McDonald has seen plenty of times the past four years.
“It was Kaitlyn Orihel in a nutshell,” McDonald said. “I think it was just her realizing ‘it’s time I take what I’ve been working for these four years.’ We’ve seen it plenty, if I had the time, I’d like to go through our film to see how many games were close only for her to put it away late.
“That moment is where she has really shined and it’s among the reasons I think she’ll do well at Villanova. She’s played in so many big games and in the biggest moments of those games, she only gets better.”
All Orihel wanted was a chance to play this season, but the senior admitted there were times she wasn’t sure that would come to be. After initially opting not to play fall sports, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia eventually relented but those teams only got a handful of games in before state issued shutdowns came into play.
As other area teams started their preseason, Wood and the rest of the Catholic League found out they would have to wait to start their season before another shutdown paused all athletic activity. A co-captain along with seniors Noelle Baxter and Dana Kiefer and junior Ryanne Allen, Orihel tried to keep her teammates focused on being ready.
“We had to focus on what we could control,” Orihel said. “It was difficult for sure, you don’t see them all of the time like you normally would and I think for all of us, it was tough to keep that focus. We all had that same common goal which I think helped us buy in to what we were going to have to do.
“We didn’t go out with people not on the basketball team this season, but we knew it would be worth it at the end when we, hopefully, were holding up trophies.”
McDonald said Orihel’s biggest improvement this season was her leadership of the team. With the team playing under certain health and safety protocols, McDonald said Orihel was often the one communicating with her teammates and making sure everyone was on the same page as far as what they could and couldn’t do.
The senior was usually the one gathering her teammates around pregame or at the end of timeouts and Orihel noted she wanted to rely on her teammates like they relied on her.
“She looked like she wanted to win those championships more than anything this year and you could see it in her leadership,” McDonald said. “She took it upon herself to gather the team in different moments and I think her leadership got even better. If there was anything that got better, it was her leadership and willingness to do it.
After passing the 1,000-point plateau as a junior, Orihel set her sights on the program’s all-time scoring record. With the shorter season, McDonald and Orihel didn’t make it a point of conversation, but Orihel admitted she was keeping track on her own.
In the state quarterfinals, the moment finally arrived. Off a pass from Baxter, Orihel converted a fourth quarter layup, passing 2004 graduate Pam Rosanio atop the scoring list.
Rosanio, who served as an assistant coach with Wood during Orihel’s sophomore year, reached out soon after to congratulate the new record holder.
“She called me after and we had a nice chat,” Orihel said. “We’re super-close, she only coached me the one year but we became very close and she’s so supportive. It’s unreal to actually think about now that I’ve processed it, after I scored my 1,000th I thought ‘I could break that record’ and now that I’ve done it, it’s crazy to register it.”
The individual accolades, which also include a PA Sportswriters Class 5A All-State Player of the Year selection last season, are impressive but Orihel’s senior season goals were team-oriented. Losing in the state title game as a freshman and falling in overtime the last two years in the PCL title game were the drive for her and fellow seniors Baxter and Kiefer this winter.
Orihel wasn’t Wood’s leading scorer but she did have the knack for scoring when it mattered. All 12 of her points in the PCL title game came in the second half, she had nine of her 24 points against Gwynedd Mercy Academy in the PIAA quarterfinals in the fourth quarter, half her points in the PCL semis against Archbishop Carroll were in the final frame and of course, there was the state championship finale.
“I’m just so proud of the team and everything we did this year because we worked for it and earned it,” Orihel said. “For the seniors, knowing that’s it and we’re done, it’s bittersweet. We were so close this year, I love all those girls and it’ll be rough not going back but I also know there is more ahead.”
Wood has said goodbye to foundational players like Orihel before and with Allen, Bri Bowen, Shannon Morgan and a large group of sophomores still in the fold, the Vikings will continue competing for titles. Orihel leaves the program with a legacy in place, but the senior would prefer it be one that’s shared.
“The typical answer would be all the things I accomplished, but it’s not that, I want people to walk into the gym, see the banners and remember the team,” Orihel said. “That’s so special, that we all did it. I can’t wait to come back in a year or two, see those banners and bring back all those memories. I want to be remembered for that winning legacy we built and all the hard work we put in, especially this year.”