They have combined to win four Manhattan Cup titles in the last three seasons, yet when one sees Nichols’ name as an opponent of Salesian in a game with a New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association championship on the line, one can’t help but do a double take.
Canisius is a different story.
Both would love to continue making news for the right reasons over the next eight days.
Nichols and Canisius are each one win away from winning NYSCHSAA boys basketball championships. They get their shots on Sunday afternoon at Villa Maria College during a championship doubleheader in which the winners advance to the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions later this week in Albany.
Nichols (10-17) faces Salesian of New Rochelle at 1 p.m. for the Class B title. After that, at about 2:45 p.m., Canisius (25-2) will look to retain the Class A crown against Monsignor Farrell (22-5).
The Vikings entering their final with a losing record is one thing. The fact they posted just one league victory during the regular season is a whole other matter.
How exactly did Nichols reach this point?
The Vikings won the games that mattered. A No. 5 seed in the Manhattan Cup Class B Tournament, they had to win a play-in game just to earn a date with top-seeded and division unbeaten Archbishop Walsh of Olean. They shot lights out in the win over Walsh and then overwhelmed Niagara Catholic with a fast start to complete the playoff tournament 3-0 and earn this rare opportunity.
“I guess it makes me proud how the kids bought into our system and have developed throughout the year,” said Nichols coach John Reinholz, who guided the Vikings to the Manhattan Cup Class A title in 2014 and a runner-up finish to Canisius last season before dropping back down to the Class B division. “This group of kids is amazing. They’re so young and fearless. They just come to practice every day with a desire to get better.”
They have, including junior Will Johnson – the playoff MVP – and sophomore standout Marcellus Cooper.
“He’s one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching,” Reinholz said. “He’s become so fundamentally sound.”
Fundamentally sound and Canisius go hand-and-hand.
The Crusaders, the News’ No. 1 Large School, play a well-disciplined team game and love to get after it defensively as they’ve won 11 straight contests.
Their mettle will be put to the test by a Farrell team that plays a physical, well-disciplined brand of basketball. Farrell won its first intersectional title in 10 years to reach the semifinals, where it defeated Kennedy Catholic. Point guard Nick Corbett is Farrell’s main threat but there are others the Crusaders must watch if they want to defend home court.
“It’ll be another very good test for us,” Canisius coach Kyle Husband said. “Their half-court offense is better than most we’ve seen this year. They work hard at that end of the floor.”
So, too, does Canisius, which yields just 51.8 points per game. It has given up 60 or more points in a game just five times as a senior frontline of 6-foot-7 forwards Stafford Trueheart, Madut Ayiy and Charles Hart lead a tall athletic defense that relishes being the go-to unit.
This is the first time the area is hosting the state Catholic finals in several years. While Western New York has played host to the semifinals every other year, this offers area teams a unique advantage they haven’t had in this contest very often in the past.
Still, Canisius and Nichols will have to put in the work if each wants to keep its seasons alive.
“We need the whole team to play four quarters Sunday in order to get to where we want to be,” Husband said. “There are two different state championships. This is the first one. If we play hard and focused we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to achieve that goal.”