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.”