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Prep Talk: Nichols heads Winter Top 10

Our weekly Power 10 during each high school season is about trying to determine the best of the best: all sports, all genders, all levels.

To make the list, you have to be among the best in your particular sport. To reach the top, you have to be dominant locally and show that your success extends beyond Western New York.

For our final ranking of the winter season, there were several teams which fit that description. All 10 teams are champions to some degree – including four which won state titles.

However, only one can say it is among the best in the country at what they do, which is a major reason they’re on top.

1. Nichols girls hockey. The Vikings went 31-4-3 and won their last 17 games to earn championships in two leagues (in two countries) and finish as the fourth-ranked team among the nation’s independent prep schools by

“Candidly, they wanted to be a dominant force,” fourth-year Nichols coach Scott Welch said of his team’s goals this season during a postseason interview on PrepTalkTV. Nichols won repeat titles in the North American Prep Hockey Association as well as the Ontario-based Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association.

It is the third straight year Nichols has won the NAPHA playoff title (last year was the first time a team had won back-to-back playoff championships in the very competitive league). It also won the NAPHA regular season crown and claimed a third straight CISAA title.

Along the way, the Vikings showed they could play with the best in the country. Nichols went undefeated to win the prestigious Deerfield (Mass.) Invitational Christmas Tournament. It also gave New England prep powerhouse Noble and Greenough School the only blemish on an otherwise perfect record of 18-0-1 when it earned a 2-2 tie in the second of a pair of games played just after New Year’s.

The tie against Nobles also came without two of the team’s top players who are among six seniors who are headed to play elite-level college hockey — Julianna Iafallo (Ohio State) and Madison Sansone (Providence). That list also includes Brandy Streeter (Union), Annika Zalewski (Colgate), Elizabeth Viola (Division III national champion Plattsburgh State) and Allison Gasuik (Ohio State), who was out injured this season.

Also committed to Division I are coach Welch’s daughters, junior Madison Welch (Syracuse) and sophomore Abby Welch (Penn State). In his four seasons, Welch’s teams have gone 115-21-11.

2. Cardinal O’Hara girls basketball. Only a girls hockey team that can claim it is one of the nation’s best kept the Hawks from the top spot after a historic season.

O’Hara won the Federation Tournament of Champions title in Class A to earn the overall state championship, a team-sport claim that only can be made in basketball following the gathering of champions from the state’s public, Catholic, independent associations as well as New York City’s Public Schools Athletic Association.

It was just the sixth Fed title for Western New York girls basketball, just the second in the large-school classification, and the first since 1997 (when Holy Angels won Class A).

The Hawks beat New York State Public High School Athletic Association champion Pittsford-Sutherland of Section V (Rochester area) and PSAL champ Martin Luther King at the Federation tournament.

Two weeks earlier, O’Hara became the first Monsignor Martin team to win a New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association Class A title as it beat Kellenberg, a team that finished seventh in’s final overall Long Island rankings.

After moving up to Class A from B due to two straight Catholic Class B titles and the addition of Jontay Walton from Holy Angels, the Hawks dominated local competition and spent the entire season at No. 1 in The News large school poll. Walton became the Monsignor Martin’s all-time leading scorer and was The Buffalo News Player of the Year. Fellow senior Keyonte Edwards, who earned Federation MVP honors, joined her as a two-time first-team All-Western New York selection.

O’Hara finished 27-3, losing only to Franklin of Pennsylvania and Section V Class AA teams Penfield and Gates-Chili.

3. Canisius boys swimming. Harvard-bound All-American Jack Boyd became a three-time state champion in the 200-yard freestyle while All-American Jake Otto set the Section VI 100 breaststroke record as the Crusaders put forth another outstanding performance at the state Federation meet.

Eight Canisius swimmers amassed a team total of 118, placing it fifth. For the second straight year, Canisius’ state meet total was higher than the combined score of all Section VI participants in the meet (118-92).

In a season in which Canisius went undefeated, including two wins against Cathedral Prep (Pa.), the championship at St. Ignatius (Ohio) and the All-Catholic title, Canisius collectively set two Western New York records and four Monsignor Martin marks. Boyd’s 4:22.72 in the 500-yard freestyle at the state meet was the other Western New York record — he finished second to Pittsford’s PJ Ransford (4:21.06) in one of the greatest finals in state history (both swimmers were much faster than the previous state mark of 4:24.06).

4. Frontier boys bowling. With senior Chad Mee again helping to lead the way, the Falcons earned the school’s first state title with a dominating performance at Babylon Lanes on Long Island.

The two-time sectional champs finished with an eye-popping 336-pin margin of victory over Section II (Albany area) champion Mohonasen in the tournament of 10 sectional champions. Over six games, Frontier had a pinfall of 5,987.

Mee closed an exceptional career, one which saw him attend the state tournament — either as an individual or with Frontier — for five straight years (he started as an eighth-grade varsity player). He was the top individual in the state team competition with a 1,346 pinfall for a 224.33 average. Junior Bryan Carson contributed 1,259 and senior Matt Kinn had 1,165. Mee was also the individual champion as Frontier won Section VI after an unbeaten ECIC I championship year.

5. Chautauqua Lake girls basketball. The Thunderbirds (24-1) underlined their status as the top small school in Western New York with a Class C state championship which included routs of fellow top small schools Randolph (80-42) and Tapestry Charter (66-32) in the Section VI semifinals and finals, respectively, before winning three more games by double digits in the state playoffs. The Thunderbirds’ only loss was at eventual Section VI Class AA champion Jamestown in December.

6. St. Joe’s boys hockey. The Marauders emerged from what was a very competitive Federation season to finish the season with three major wins, beating rival Canisius in the Niagara Cup semifinals, beating top-seeded Bishop Timon-St. Jude in the championship, and edging St. Anthony’s, 2-1, on Long Island for its second straight NYSCHSAA title and third in four years. Senior Dom Perna had a tremendous season for St. Joe’s (17-11-1), including a third-period goal in the Marauders’ 2-1 state title win.

7. Sweet Home indoor track. The Panthers displayed rare dominance on the team side of this sport, sweeping the boys and girls titles at the Section VI Team Challenge in January, then running to another sweep at the Section VI Team Championships a few weeks later.

8. Jamestown, Olean, Middle Early College and Nichols boys basketball. The first three advanced to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship game at Glens Falls, while Nichols fell in the Catholic Class A semifinals after a memorable run to the Manhattan Cup title.

9. Kenmore girls hockey. Became the first team in the four-year history of the girls Federation league to win both the Section VI championship and Federation title in what was the league’s most competitive season.

10. Lockport wrestling. A memorable team victory over Clarence at the Class AA championships was followed by three wrestlers winning Section VI titles — Anthony Orefice (126), Kirk Feeney (145) and Marshall Taylor (220) — and a total of four going on to states.

Special mention — Section VI girls gymnastics: The sport that competes in the fall but holds its state championships in the winter saw the Section VI combined squad win the state title in competition with 10 other teams as it scored 186.60 to dethrone defending champion Section XI (Suffolk County, L.I.), which had 182.05. Courtney Bodanza (38.125) won the all-around title while, in the final event, Lancaster teammate Rachel Filipski tied the state record in the vault with a 9.85 to help secure the title. Ana Reyes (Williamsville East) was first on the balance beam.

High honor roll: Bishop Timon-St. Jude hockey; Canisius and Sherman boys basketball; Jamestown girls basketball; Niagara Falls girls bowling.

Honor roll: Bishop Timon-St. Jude, McKinley, East and Cheektowaga boys basketball; Williamsville South, Tonawanda, Pine Valley and Mount Mercy girls basketball; Williamsville North, Williamsville East and Nichols boys hockey; Clarence, Lew-Port and Falconer and St. Francis wrestling; Lancaster indoor track; Mount St. Mary girls bowling; St. Francis boys bowling; Clarence boys swimming.

Third boys banquet a success

Earlier this month, the third annual Buffalo News/BCANY Awards banquet for boys basketball, supported by UNYTS and ADPRO Sports, was again well-received. Many thanks go to BCANY’s Al Monaco (Fredonia State assistant), Larry Jones (Depew head coach and Section VI chairman) and Dan Gerken as well as News pollster Chad “Centercourt” Andrews for their hard work in helping put the event together.

We were able to honor not only the top players and coaches from this season, as well as some contributors to the game, but we also paid tribute to 50th anniversary 1964 All-Western New York first-teamers Tom Balen (Lackawanna), Jack Hassett (Timon) and Greg Hudecki (St. Joe’s) as well as George Mayer of Williamsville, who was a member of the very first All-WNY team in 1959.

Also honored were the fathers of two All-WNY first teamers who were also first-teamers themselves: Rickey Williams (Bishop Timon, 1974), father of Donte; and Brian Brown (Emerson, 1986), father of Bri’an. Damone Brown, a first-teamer in 1997 for Seneca, was on hand to present the Allen Wilson Player of the Year Award. Brown was one of the players who was covered by Wilson — who died of leukemia in 2011 — during his time on the boys basketball beat at The News.

A complete list of honorees from the banquet, held April 7 at Ilio DiPaolo’s in Blasdell, is on the Prep Talk blog.

For next year’s banquet, we wish to honor the 50th anniversary 1965 first team. If anyone can help us track down four players from that team — Mike Brown (Lockport), Mike Kull (Timon), John Hayes (Niagara Falls), Bill Young (Angelica) — please email me at the address below. We know how to get a hold of Tony Masiello of Cardinal Dougherty. He had something of a political career in this town.