There was a time this season when some considered Vincentian Academy an underdog.
After a 29-2 season that included a section title, WPIAL title and PIAA silver medal, that seems like a long time ago.
The Royals were tasked with replacing four senior starters from last season's WPIAL Class A championship team.
"Early on, a lot of people wrote us off," Vincentian coach Ron Moncrief said shortly after his team's season ended with a 59-42 loss to Tri-Valley in the PIAA Class A final on Saturday. "They said we were rebuilding because we lost four good seniors last year."
Instead of rebuilding, the Royals simply built off what they did last year and had an even more successful season by multiple measures.
They upped their win total from 28 to 29. A year after sharing the Section 2-A title with North Catholic, Vincentian won it outright this year and a year after losing in the PIAA semifinals, the Royals reached the PIAA championship game.
"If you look at our lineup, we play a lot of freshmen and sophomores," Moncrief said. "A lot of people didn't give us a chance to get this far."
One of those young kids was sophomore Brenna Wise, one of the top talents in the WPIAL. She averaged 21 points per game during the regular season. In the PIAA final she had 18 points and 18 rebounds, her third double-double of the PIAA playoffs. She already has scholarship offers from Pitt, Duquesne, Providence and Drexel.
"[This season] was spectacular," Wise said. "Everyone thought we'd be underdogs. We surprised a lot of people.
"It started in here with the heart. Our coach really prepared us well. We work well as a team."
In the program's first PIAA final since 2002, Vincentian was within two points with 3:28 left in the third quarter but Tri-Valley closed the quarter on a 12-0 run and Vincentian had no answer for Tri Valley's 6-foot-4 forward Tara Nahodil, a Seton Hall recruit.
"I thought the first half we did a good job of limiting the big girl," Moncrief said. "In the second half she had a lot more points and rebounds. We just tried to keep it positive [going into the fourth quarter]. I just told them, it's seven baskets. We needed seven stops on defense. To their credit they kept pouring it on."
Nahodil scored 17 of her 19 points in the second half.
"They came out [in the second half] with more intensity maybe," Wise said. "We were just a little rattled and didn't respond as well as we should have responded.
"We'll learn from that and better ourselves from that. We have a great group of girls. I'm glad we got our seniors to come here."
After dominating WPIAL competition, Vincentian reached the PIAA final by playing all non-WPIAL competition. It defeated Keystone, the third-place team from District 9, Berlin-Brothersvalley, the third-place team from District 5, District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic and District 6 champion Bishop Guilfoyle.
Vincentian should have the talent to make a run at a WPIAL "three-peat" and a return trip to Hershey next season. Although senior guards Shannon Masterson and Abbey Bartoszewicz and senior forwards Danielle Melvin and Allison Ware will graduate, the Royals will return Wise along with junior guard/forward Ally Bartoszewicz, junior guards Kayla Key and Amanda Bigi, freshman guards Julia Galbraith, Torrieonna Cash and Maia Joiner and sophomore guard/forward Sarah Marusic.
"If you look at it, even though we didn't win states, we had a pretty successful year, especially with such young kids in the lineup," Moncrief said. "As long as we stick together and stay healthy, hopefully we can get back here in the future."
First Published March 28, 2013 4:00 AM