Nichols has been a thorn in Cardinal O’Hara’s side all season.
First, the Vikings (21-4) ended the Lady Hawks’ (12-11) 45-game winning streak against Monsignor Martin competition. Secondly, they beat them twice in the regular season.
Defeating the nine-time defending league champion for a third time – and in this instance, for a championship – was going to be a tall task, yet it was one the Vikings fulfilled on Thursday night at Hilbert College by taking down the area’s consensus best program 46-43 to win Nichols’ first MMAA title since 2009.
“I’m just so proud of these girls,” Nichols coach Kayleigh Rizzo said. “They’ve worked so hard and we’ve been preparing for this all season long. They showed up today, different people stepped up and it was just a phenomenal team win.”
“I’m just over-the-moon excited and thrilled for them. Cardinal O’Hara is an amazing opponent. They’ve been a dynasty for the past 10-15 years or so and being able to beat them three times in a season is remarkable.“
After a back-and-forth first three quarters in which neither team led by more than six points, the Vikings ran into a crisis in the fourth when junior Brianna Barr-Buday (a University at Buffalo commit) went down with cramps – forcing her to leave the game. In her place, seniors Quinn Benchley and Cianna Tobia stepped up as both converted free throws and Tobia scored the winning points with less than 10 seconds to go.
In the face of adversity, the Vikings never quit. Rizzo attributed that to her team’s poise.
“There was a sense of excitement but there was also a sense of eerie calmness because we’ve been in situations like that before throughout the season,” Rizzo said. “I felt that the girls were kind of comfortable in a weird way.
“From day one I knew we could compete for a championship because I realized I had a team full of studs. They were all stellar players, but individual players and I came in and put them together and made them successful in their spots. These girls are phenomenal and they deserve this.”
Earlier in the evening, Mount St. Mary’s toppled Park 34-26 to win the MMAA Class B title.
It was just the second MMAA title the school has won in more than 90 years, and coach Leah McDonell said that at first her squad came out of the gates a bit intimidated by the moment but settled down as the game went along.
“We definitely came out nervous but I think it’s the first large scale game this group has had in a long time,” McDonell said. “We had a bit of a jittery start but our players kept their composure and that really helped us out in the end.
“It was definitely a long time coming for us, but we had our minds set on this since the beginning of the year and it was one of our top goals, so we’re happy we’ve accomplished it.”
Anabella Richter, the game’s MVP, and Emma McNab were two cogs in the machine that was the Thunder’s defense. Throughout the contest Park would consistently have balls stolen from them and converted into points, and McDonell was pleased with her team’s effort on that side of the ball.
“We always say that defense wins championships here,” McDonnel said. “We have some awesome athletic talent and they can read a pass and see it before it gets there and obviously before the offense knows that they’re there. So it’s always a good feeling to see us playing well on that end.”
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