York, PA - Shortly after his team's semifinal win against Saint Basil Academy on Tuesday, York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos drew one hearty laugh from a TV reporter when he referred to Friday's PIAA final as a "hardware game."
Morgan Klunk would like some of that hardware. She sees the trophies that are showcased in the adjacent hallway from the York Catholic gym. Three state championship trophies from 2006-08, the last two of which Bankos served as head coach, are on display. In the 5-foot-11 senior guard's three seasons at the school, she has experienced last year's state final loss to Seton-LaSalle and the only tournament run in eight seasons that didn't end in the title game.
"I always ask to see their rings," Klunk said of her coaches, including Bankos. "It would be pretty cool to have one of my own, as a team."
The state championship games were moved to Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center in 2007 but shifted back to Hershey this season.
Although it's a different venue, chances were high that the opponent would be the same. That was until Bishop Canevin beat Seton-LaSalle, 41-36, on Tuesday to follow up a victory against its rival in the WPIAL (District 7) final. The two postseason wins were a stark contrast from Seton-LaSalle's two regular-season victories, including one by 31 points against the Panthers.
Yet they rebounded, and here they are.
"They're going to be highly favored, I'm sure, as they should be," said Bankos, awaiting the news Tuesday of which western team would face his Irish. "We always tell the kids, you only gotta win one game. You don't have to beat them 10 times. We're going to go and enjoy the moment."
Bankos was absolute in his assertion that the achievement of reaching the state title game is an accomplishment of its own. Even though York Catholic has done it seven of the past eight years, that one season it didn't happen came with Kady Schrann -- now at Vanderbilt --as a senior.
Klunk was a sophomore, in her first year at York Catholic after transferring from Red Lion, that season. She remembers practicing on the "gold team," which scrimmages against the starters, and the jitters that came with her first varsity game.
She also remembers what she took from Schrann.
"She was the kind of player that would lead with her play and not with her words," Klunk said. "She wouldn't get in your face."
That mindset continued with Klunk's senior teammates last season.
"They all encouraged me. If you miss a shot, it's OK. Get it back on defense," she said. "That's what you got to do. That's what makes you a team."
As York Catholic's leading scorer, Klunk has had her shares of makes and misses. She responded from a rough shooting night in a YAIAA tournament loss to West York by recapturing the consistency she's enjoyed all season. Klunk has scored in double figures for 29 of her 31 games and averaged 17.1 points, but she said it wasn't until winning the district title that she felt a state final appearance was within reach.
Only one of two seniors on the Irish roster, she's exerted herself enough to make a spectator tired. Whether it's her hair whipping as she scrambles for a loose ball or a knee that's taped like it was after Tuesday's win, her coach has taken notice.
Even a few minutes into York Catholic's first practice Sunday after its quarterfinal win, Klunk had already worked up a sweat in warmups. Today, those days are over. When noon hits at Giant Center, Klunk gets a chance to add a trophy and picture of her team in that case at York Catholic.
One that might draw the eyes of an underclassman who she was once like.
York Catholic (29-2) vs. Bishop Canevin (26-4)
PIAA Class AA championship
Noon, Friday at Giant Center in Hershey
How the Irish got here: Beat District 1 champion Saint Basil Academy, 45-28.
How the Crusaders got here: Beat District 7 rival and defending state champion Seton-LaSalle, 41-36.
Scouting the Crusaders: Bishop Canevin played Seton-LaSalle four times this season, dropping the two regular-season meetings before beating its rival in the WPIAL final and state semifinals. The Crusaders feature a trio of seniors capable of scoring in bunches: 5-foot-10 Carly Forse, 5-10 Celina Dipietro and 5-11 Erin Waskowiak, a Duquesne commit. That's not all. Junior Johnie Olkosky is a dangerous 3-point shooter -- she hit 7-of-9 to beat Seton-LaSalle for the district title -- and 5-8 freshman Gina Vallecorsa had 10 points in the state semifinals.
York Catholic's state championship history
York Catholic has made it to seven of the past eight PIAA Class AA girls basketball championship games. Here is a look at how the Fighting Irish fared during those trips to the finals.
2012: The Irish lost a fairly one-sided, 71-47, game to an immensely talented Seton-La Salle squad, that Irish coach Kevin Bankos said was the best team he had ever seen.
2010: Despite 21 points from all-everything Kady Schrann, the Irish lost, 52-44, to Villa Maria, which featured Notre Dame recruit Kayla McBride, who poured in 29 points.
2009: Villa Maria ended the reign of the three-time defending champion Irish with a 56-51 win at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. York Catholic made a game out of a one-time 18-point deficit.
2008: The Irish won their third straight state championship with a 52-40 win over Northern Cambria. Freshman Kady Schrann scored 12 points and senior Ashton Bankos added 11 in the win.
2007: York Catholic closed out a perfect 35-0 season behind its 58-44 win over Villa Maria in the championship's first year at Bryce Jordan Center. Megan Stewart scored 24 points, Amanda Weaver added 18.
2006: Down by 19 in the third quarter at Giant Center, the Fighting Irish chipped away at Westmont Hilltop's lead and overtook the Hilltoppers, and the team that in 2003 went 0-23 started a dynasty that is still going strong today.
-- Steve Navaroli