HERSHEY — Though Friday night's 49-30 loss to Cumberland Valley in the PIAA Class AAAA championship signaled an ignominious end to the Spring-Ford girls basketball team's season, it's a safe bet it won't be the last anyone ever hears of the Rams on the state level.
A year after bringing home the first state championship in school history, the Rams impressively made it back to the PIAA final with a gutsy postseason run.
Though they graduate the stalwart senior duo of Sammy Stipa and Shelby Mueller, along with reserve Kaity Dougherty, the cupboard is far from bare for the Rams.
Maggie Locke, Julia Roshelli, Abby Beyer and Lauryn Hart head a junior contingent that will receive the highly-successful torch and attempt to carry on a tradition that includes three straight Pioneer Athletic Conference titles, three straight trips to the District 1 final and three straight trips to the PIAA Final Four.
And with a sophomore class highlighted by starter Amy Roth, rotation members Molly Hynes and Emily Walker and a promising freshman group that includes Maddie Haney, Sydney Wagner, Cammy Jones and Lexie Nugent, the future is plenty bright for coach Mickey McDaniel's crew.
"They're still young,' Mueller said. "All of them are going to work really hard in the offseason, and I have faith in them going far again next season.'
"I think with the experience a lot of them gained this year, they'll be able to move on and hopefully go far next year,' Stipa said.
With McDaniel going double-digit players deep in several postseason games and Spring-Ford continuing its rugged non-league schedule next year, the Rams have the opportunity to develop into a battle-tested squad that will continue the program's dynamic run over the past three seasons.
"We have a nice group coming back next year,' McDaniel said. "But we still have to take it up another level.'
Dave Caldwell was feeling paternal Friday night.
The longtime Spring-Ford boys basketball coach, who gave Spring-Ford girls first-year head coach Mickey McDaniel his coaching start, was at the Giant Center, serving as color commentator for Ram Country TV's presentation of the state final.
Along with the success of current Spring-Ford boys coach Chris Talley, one of his former players, had this season in guiding the Rams on an undefeated run to the Pioneer Athletic Conference championship (and program's first PIAA tourney appearance), Caldwell was feeling a bit like a '˜proud papa.'
"It's neat for me to see the success of both this season,' Caldwell said.
During Caldwell's 16 seasons coaching the Spring-Ford boys, the Rams won three league titles (1998-99, 1999-2000, 2003-04). He amassed a 253-132 career record.
McDaniel was a boys assistant under Caldwell for nine seasons before joining the Jeff Rinehimer-led girls program for 18 seasons. A 1973 Spring-Ford graduate who is also the school's athletic director, McDaniel took over as head coach this season and didn't miss a beat in guiding the Rams back to the PIAA title game.
"Being an assistant to two of the most successful coaches we've had (Rinehimer and former boys coach Dave Caldwell) really allowed me to grow and prepared me very well for this,' McDaniel said earlier in the postseason.
In Friday's other state championship games, District 7 champ Seton LaSalle turned away previously unbeaten District 12 champ Neumann-Goretti 58-50 behind 23 rebounds and 10 points from Yacine Diop in the Class AA girls final, District 7 champ Lincoln Park got 37 points from Maverick Rowan in defeating District 12 champ Math, Civics and Sciences 70-66 in the Class A boys final, and District 12 champ Neumann-Goretti held off District 3 champ Susquehanna Township 64-57 in overtime in the Class AAA boys final.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD and Austin Hertzog at @AustinHertzog.