Catholic League MVP Jabria Ingram will try to close out her high school career with a fourth straight state title on Monday, when Neumann-Goretti plays District 7 champion Bishop Canevin for the PIAA Class 3A crown at the Giant Center in Hershey (6 p.m. tip). The final had been scheduled for Thursday but was moved to Monday because of the weather.
The University of Hartford-bound senior and junior forward Tatiana Jones guided the Saints to a 12-0 record in Catholic League play before dropping the championship to Cardinal O'Hara. Neumann-Goretti (21-7) followed that up with a loss to Imhotep Charter in the District 12 title game.
But the Saints received a big lift when Diamond Johnson, a sophomore transfer from Virginia, was declared eligible for the PIAA tournament following a hearing on March 5. The 5-foot-5 point guard averaged 33 points in 19 games for Hampton Phoebus High School this season, before transferring to Neumann-Goretti in February.
"In the hearing, we listened to the reasons for leaving the school in Virginia and re-enrolling in a school in Philadelphia," said District 12 vice chairperson Joe Sette in a statement acquired by Bob Greenburg of sportsradio967.com. "We found out that the student was a native Philadelphian and left for Virginia when she was eleven years old. She returned to Philadelphia due to a private family matter which I cannot divulge to you. After listening to all of the witnesses involved and the collaborating evidence the District XII Committee went into deliberations."
According to the statement, the PIAA board of directors is in the process of amending the PIAA constitution "to address in-season transfers." The change is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.
Johnson has averaged about 15 points in the Saints' four state tournament victories over Pine Grove, Loyalsock, St. Basil, and Dunmore. Her late-season transfer hasn't gone over well with opposing teams.
"I think it's a different game if you take the kid out from Virginia," St. Basil head coach Terry Mancini said following a 47-29 loss to Neumann-Goretti in the quarterfinals. "How do I tell my kids that you played your hearts out, and this happens? It's unfortunate."
The Saints' roster is rounded out by seniors Chelsea Keebler (guard), Dajiah Parmley (forward), Ameerah Godwin (forward), and Amaja Mack (guard); juniors Kiara Koger (guard) and Angel Ricks (forward); and freshmen Christa Ricks (forward), Amani Coursey-Betty (forward), Prunelle Mungo (forward), Jonelle Price (guard), and Sara Coppola (guard).
"I think we have a lot of kids on the bench that people haven't seen yet that are really good and are going to be beneficial," Neumann-Goretti head coach Andrea Peterson said. "We have a whole squad that's ready to dig in. We're hungry for a state title."
Bishop Canevin (24-4) secured a spot in the final with a 67-52 win over East Allegheny. Last year, the Crusaders lost to Neumann-Goretti in the state championship, 62-56.
Senior Bri Allen (15.9 points per game) and junior Shamyjha Price (14.6) lead an offense that averages 54.6 points per game.
"We've played them before, and we hung with them fine," Bishop Canevin head coach Scott Dibble told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "There's no fear whatsoever. We just have to execute our game plan and do what we do, and not get caught up in all the outside drama."