Northeast wins first-ever Class AAAA girls’ hoops title

For a school that’s been around as long as North­east has, it gets harder and harder to es­tab­lish a “first.”

Phil Mon­as­tra’s Lady Vik­ing bas­ket­ball squad still found a way.

On Wed­nes­day, North­east used a 34-6 third quarter blitzkrieg to stun fa­vor­ite Cent­ral, 80-58, giv­ing North­east its first ever Class AAAA Pub­lic League title. The Lady Vik­ings throttled Park­way West 54-14 the fol­low­ing day in the league semi­final match­up, set­ting the stage for Sunday af­ter­noon’s Pub­lic League title game between North­east (17-3 over­all) and Im­hotep Charter (1 p.m., Temple Uni­versity’s Liac­our­as Cen­ter). But for now, Mon­as­tra and com­pany are still bask­ing in the glow of knock­ing off the Lan­cers, who had come in­to North­east’s gym on Jan. 7 and handed the Vik­ings a nine-point loss.

“I think the ela­tion star­ted at the end of the third quarter, I turned to my as­sist­ant and asked, ‘Are we really up by 34 points?’” Mon­as­tra said. “That’s when it hit. I knew I could fi­nally re­lax, and just en­joy the mo­ment.”

The mo­ment was a dandy for many North­east play­ers, play­ers such as seni­or Jack­ie Ha­gen, a vet­er­an of the pro­gram, and Briyah Hill, an­oth­er seni­or who missed her en­tire ju­ni­or cam­paign after she blew her knee out in a sum­mer league game.

But per­haps nobody en­joyed it more than the seni­or duo most re­spons­ible for tak­ing it to Cent­ral, the com­bin­a­tion of Lauren Wil­lis and Ci­era Nim­mons. Wil­lis has been a main­stay for the North­east pro­gram, its top scorer and most-feared all-around weapon for years. Then there’s Nim­mons, who won three Pub­lic League titles at Prep Charter be­fore trans­fer­ring to North­east after the pro­gram was pun­ished for us­ing in­eligible play­ers and banned from the post­season in 2013-14. Hav­ing known Wil­lis from grow­ing up, Nim­mons de­cided to trans­fer to North­east, play­ing with her friend on an or­gan­ized team for the very first time.

Against Cent­ral, who had ruled Class AAAA up un­til this point, Wil­lis and Sim­mons poured in 28 points each.

“They im­me­di­ately ran to each oth­er, just hug­ging, high-fiv­ing and jump­ing around,” Mon­as­tra said. “It was def­in­itely chaos and crazi­ness, as far as the mo­ment goes. We had set out from day one to make this our goal, and we worked a lot to get to where we are. Any­one who’s ever played sports knows that feel­ing, what it’s like to win a cham­pi­on­ship. It’s pure ex­cite­ment, and there’s some cry­ing, but in the end you nev­er stop smil­ing.”

Mon­as­tra, in his second sea­son after tak­ing over for long­time head coach Rich Kirk, al­lowed him­self to en­joy the mo­ment, too. Coaches are al­ways plan­ning for the next step, which for Mon­as­tra means try­ing to win the en­tire league, then take his chances against the Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on in the Dis­trict XII title; but, at the same time, he ac­know­ledged just how sig­ni­fic­ant an achieve­ment this was for the school.

“We’ve al­ways had great teams go­ing back to Rich, and it seems odd we haven’t got one con­sid­er­ing how good of a job he did,” Mon­as­tra said. “I think he and I both got lucky with a lot of un­ex­pec­ted tal­ent re­cently, and the girls just did a great job ex­ecut­ing. All the cred­it goes to them. Hope­fully we can add to it.”

Mon­as­tra knows full well how hard it is to come out of the Pub­lic League on top, so he’s not tak­ing any of this for gran­ted. He hopes however this year ends, it serves as a step­ping stone for the pro­gram’s bright fu­ture.

“This league has a lot of great teams, so we nev­er took a day off,” Mon­as­tra said. “Every game is im­port­ant, so com­ing out on top in AAAA has a little ex­tra spe­cial mean­ing. As a coach and as an ath­lete, you nev­er want it to be easy. You want to be able to prove your grit and de­term­in­a­tion and abil­ity. Every game and every prac­tice had a point for us.

“We’d love to get a chance to go play the Cath­ol­ic League for the city title so they can see that type of com­pet­i­tion and what it takes to get there. The ex­per­i­ence will help us build. It’s al­ways good to take it to the next level to see where you stack up. If we win a few, awe­some; if not, at least we lived and learned and gave it our best, and that’s really all you can ask for.” 

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