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It was the Christmas gift that kept on giving.

It was just after the holiday when Nichols basketball coach Bob Torgalski said he noticed a change in his 6-foot-3 center, Kelly Regan, a change that was better than anything he could have found under the tree.

"Right after Christmas she started opening it up, started getting more physical," he said. "That left her open for more shots. She was getting more confidence. She played more relaxed."

The Vikings rode the fine post play of Regan in the second half of the season to the New York State Independent Schools championship and runner-up of the Class B Federation Tournament in Glens Falls.

That helped earn Regan the honor of being named The Buffalo News Player of the Year. She captains the 21st annual All-Western New York team, which is chosen by The Buffalo News with an assist from area coaches, pollsters and officials. She is joined on the All-WNY team by teammates Shannan Scarselletta (second team) and Amanda Lickfeld (third team).

Nichols competed in five tournaments during the season and Regan was named all-tournament in each.

She finished with 346 rebounds (13.8 per game) and scored 366 points (14.2) this year to end her four-year career with 1,069 points.

Manhattan coach Myndi Hill recruited Regan and got her to sign early. She said she was drawn to Regan not only because she runs the floor well, has good instincts and possesses a 6-3 frame. "She's got confidence without arrogance," Hill said. "The initial thing that stuck out in my mind was when they came to visit, they looked at a lot of schools -- they were on top of things. They're basketball nuts, which fits in perfect with our family."

Torgalski said Regan didn't let signing early "go to her head," adding that she was the first one at practice and the last one to leave.

Nichols took on all comers this season with a schedule that included Nardin, Pine Valley, Immaculata, Olean, Holy Angels, Fredonia, Westfield and McKinley. Nichols dominated its competition, winning 15 of its games by 20 or more points. After a 23-3 season, Nichols finished ranked No. 2 in the final New York State poll in Class B.

Nichols played two memorable games with Immaculata, another team that plays an independent schedule. Regan had a season-high 32 points and 14 rebounds in the first meeting Feb. 3, a stunning 55-53 loss on its home court.

The teams would not meet again until March 6 in the Independent Schools State Championship in New York City. Nichols won the rematch, 61-45.

The Vikings then advanced to the Federation Tournament in Glens Falls as the state's Independent Schools champion. Regan earned all-tournament team honors after the Vikings beat the state Catholic champion, Kellenburg, then lost in the final to public school state champion John Glenn of Long Island.