Monsignor Scanlan’s focus when the season began was to make a trip to the state Federation tournament as a Class A team, but a change in the CHSAA playoffs present a new opportunity.
The Crusaders embraced it and the seized it.
Six years after winning just two games, the Scanlan girls’ basketball team is the Archdiocesan ‘AA’ champion after a comfortable 85-49 victory over Notre Dame Academy in the final at St. John Villas on Feb. 28. It is the Crusaders’ first crown diocesan in 14 years.
“We were preparing all along for the A and now that this kind of forced us into the AA, I think they are pretty proud of themselves,” Scanlan coach Tom Catalanotto said.
His club got there thanks to what Catalanotto called the team’s best first quarter of the season. Scanlan overwhelmed Notre Dame at the start jumping out 13-2 midway through the first quarter, including eight points from Nukiya Mayo. The Towson-bound wing began the Crusaders barrage of 3-pointers with two during the opening spurt. Scanlan (20-7) made 13 treys in the game and saw its lead balloon to 23-5 and then 35-12 midway through the second quarter.
“We just wanted to win,” Mayo said. “We were on fire. We couldn’t miss.”
Mayo scored a scored a game-high 21 points and Delphynia Sparks, a junior, chipped in 20 of her own. Julia Cali led Notre Dame Academy with 20 points, including five 3-pointers. The Gators (14-12) knocked off Cardinal Spellman in the semifinals. Catalanotto saw program cornerstone Sparks and Mayo leading the team to a title and ‘AA’ was a fitting addition to their career resumes.
“The way her and Del have become the 1-2 punch, it was a good way for Nikaya to get the championship, to end her high school career with a championship,” the coach said.
The Crusaders embraced the idea being a ‘AA’ since the opportunity was presented to them. The road gets tougher from here starting with a state semifinal game again Cardinal O’Hara (Buffalo) on March 11 at St. John Villa.
A win would mean a date with powers St. Anthony’s or Christ the King in the final the following day. Regular season games against Truman, Mary Louis, Long Island Lutheran, St. Anthony’s and Grand Street will make the step up in class less of a culture shock.
“It’s going to help,” Mayo said. “It built our confidence. When we [did] lose were weren’t getting blown out, but losing by five or six points. I think we could compete with anybody.”
Winning a ‘AA’ title will also change who Scanlan plays next season also, according to Catalanotto. He will ask to league to let the Crusaders compete as the only top-tier team in the Archdiocese and hope to play as many games as possible against teams from the Brooklyn/Queens division. The coming challengers are welcomed ones.
“Even though it is going to be tough for us, we are at another level,” Catalanotto said. “The [kids] feel that they are at another level.”