The darkening sky signaled a season’s end. Car horns honked from parking lots across the street. A wintry mix fluttered like confetti upon wind-burnt faces.
Imperfect conditions didn’t dampen the celebration Sunday for Nichols’ boys soccer team.
The Vikings weathered wind, rain and the expectations of a top seed to claim a 2-1 victory against Canisius and win the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association championship for the first time since 2008.
“It’s amazing,” junior striker Anthony Rambino said. “After what we went through last year, we fought hard, we worked all season to get this, and we finally came out with the win.”
The Gators defeated the Nichols Vikings in a rematch of the final regular-season game for both teams, a 6-1 decision in favor of Nichols on Nov. 10.
Nichols returned all but two starters from last year’s team that entered the title game as the top seed before losing to St. Joe’s in overtime.
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“We knew we deserved it,” junior center-back Alex Kompson said. “We were upset with the outcome last year. We came back with the mindset that we were going to play harder, with more effort than every team in the league.”
Playing at home on Strauss-Truscott Turf Field, the Vikings elected to have the wind at their backs in the first half.
“We knew we had to go up on the scoreboard when the wind was in our favor,” said Rambino, who put Nichols ahead in the fourth minute when he received a back-heel pass from Jesse Adamu and finished in front of the net.
Rambino scored twice in Nichols’ 5-1 semifinal win against St. Mary’s on Saturday and finished the season with 13 goals, 11 coming in the final 11 games after Rambino moved from a midfield position to the top of the formation.
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“It wasn’t really clicking for him out wide,” Nichols co-coach Bobby Ross said. “Once we moved him up top where he’s more comfortable, he really turned it around to have a heck of a season, and a heck of a postseason for us.”
Jay Granto tied the game for Canisius in the 15th minute, scoring off a corner kick from Ryan Adams.
Lawton Zacher substituted into the game and scored the winner in the 35th minute, taking a pass from Michael McHale and sending his shot from left of the 18-yard box in off the far post.
“That was the best shot I’ve seen him shoot all year,” Rambino said. “We really needed that from him.”
Zacher scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win at Canisius on Oct. 29, when the Vikings’ lineup was depleted due to quarantine protocol following a number of Covid-19 cases at Nichols. The Crusaders won the return match 2-1 on Nov. 7, and were the only team to beat the Vikings this season.
Nichols hunkered down on its own end of the field when weather conditions worsened in the second half Sunday.
“Our game plan was to take the wind in the first half, try to get the lead and then park the bus,” co-coach Chris Walter said.
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“We knew it would get worse in the second half, but we stayed strong on the back line,” Kompson said. “We won the headers and tried to clear the ball as much as we could.”
Senior goalkeeper Lukas Benchley made four saves for Nichols.
“Benchley was strong on the ball, catching everything, even with the wind and water,” Rambino said.
Spectators were not allowed to attend the match. Some parents watched from outside the field complex fence. Others observed from their cars in adjacent parking lots. Nichols streamed the game live on its website.
“We knew people were watching online and it was awesome hearing them in their cars,” Thompson said. “It was different. We wish we could have had fans here. But we are still celebrating this win, no matter what.”
Walter, who played on the Vikings’ last title team, said, “It’s good to see that the boys finally got what they deserved.”
“It’s good for the program to be back on the map a little bit,” Walter added. “Especially in such a crazy year. It means even more.”