Sweet Success for Stepinac Grads

Archbishop Stepinac High School graduates RJ Davis and AJ Griffin are off to the Sweet 16 with the University of North Carolina and Duke University men’s basketball teams.

Griffin and the second-seeded Blue Devils of Duke will play third seed Texas Tech at 9:30 p.m. Thursday, and Davis and eighth seed North Carolina will meet fourth seed UCLA at 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Davis, a sophomore guard, finished with 30 points, six assists and five rebounds as the Tar Heels upset top seed and defending national champ Baylor, 93-86, in overtime. North Carolina (26-9 overall) led by as many as 25 points before Baylor tied the game to force overtime.

In the tournament opener, Davis had 12 assists in a 95-63 victory over Marquette.

Griffin’s Duke Blue Devils rallied from a late five-point deficit to beat Michigan State, 85-76. Griffin, a freshman forward who finished with seven points, injured his left ankle in the second half and did not return. He remained with the team on the bench and was seen walking on the ankle. His status for the Sweet 16 is not known.

In his tournament opener, Griffin had 10 points and six rebounds in a 78-61 win over Cal State Fullerton.

Catholic Universities Are Contenders to Create Memories, Win NCAA Title

Who will it be?

Gonzaga? Villanova? Creighton? St. Mary’s? Seton Hall? St. Peter’s? Notre Dame? Loyola-Chicago?

Which Catholic university men’s basketball program will step forward and win the NCAA Division I championship?

“This is your time,” Herb Brooks told his United States hockey team before it pulled off the biggest upset of the 20th century by beating the Soviet Union, 4-3, at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid.

Five years after the miracle on ice, Villanova pulled off a miracle of its own by playing a near perfect game in upsetting Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas for the national championship.

And you ask why I’m bringing up Georgetown and Villanova? I’ll tell you with some sports trivia. When was the last time Catholic universities won back-to-back NCAA Division I men’s basketball titles?

Georgetown and Villanova won the national titles in 1984 and 1985, the last time Catholic universities won back-to-back NCAA Division I titles. In 1985, St. John’s gave Catholic universities a third representative in the Final Four.

By the way, here is some more trivia. How many Catholic universities have won NCAA Division I men’s basketball championships since 1985?

Only one – Villanova in 2016 and 2018.

Like the U.S. hockey team in 1980 and the 1985 Villanova men’s basketball team, Catholic universities have an opportunity to create miraculous moments and win the 2022 NCAA tournament.

So who will it be?

Gonzaga, the nation’s No. 1 team going into the tournament, is due to finally bring coach Mark Few and Spokane, Wash., a national championship. Few and Gonzaga have 23 consecutive 20-plus win seasons, and Few has won almost 84 percent of his games as Gonzaga coach.

How about Big East tournament champ Villanova? Jay Wright continues to do a great job in Philadelphia with a team led by Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie.

St. Mary’s, a top-25 team, was the runner-up to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament, and Creighton nearly beat Villanova in the Big East tournament final.

What about Notre Dame? Will the Fighting Irish enjoy some luck of the Irish in this tournament? Notre Dame created a tournament memory for fans on the night before St. Patrick’s Day by rallying to beat Rutgers in double overtime.

Seton Hall and St. Peter’s are both from neighboring New Jersey. St. Peter’s, a 15th seed, won the MAAC tournament which includes colleges located in the archdiocese–Iona, Manhattan and Marist. Seton Hall is coached by Kevin Willard, who once coached at Iona.

How about Loyola-Chicago? This is only their third NCAA tournament appearance since 1985, and the first two produced great moments from great opportunity. The Ramblers reached the Final Four in 2018 and Loyola Chicago upset top seed Illinois to reach the Sweet 16 in 2021.

And there is Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, B.V.M., Loyola Chicago’s team chaplain since 1994 who is now 102 years old. Sister Jean and Loyola Chicago became the story of the 2018 tournament and many were looking for the same when Loyola Chicago reached the Sweet 16 last year.

Is there an upset or two in Loyola Chicago’s future? Loyola Chicago is a 10 seed playing seventh seed Ohio State. Ohio State has lost four of its last five games.

“Ohio State? We’ll take ’em. We’ll work on ’em. … I believe our young men will do it,” said Sister Jean.

The stories and the memories are what make March Madness so much fun.

Awaka Wins Gatorade Honor

Cardinal Hayes High School senior Tobe Awaka is a finalist for the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year after winning Gatorade’s New York award on Wednesday.

Gatorade honors high school athletes for athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character. 

Awake averaged about 19 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and two assists in leading the Cardinals to the AA city and state championships. During the season, the 6-foot-8 senior forward was named the most valuable player of the New Jersey vs. New York Catholic Showcase.

“Tobe Awaka is a tremendous talent,” said Jimmy Lynch, head coach at St. Francis Preparatory School. “No other team in the league has a weapon like him. He’s big, strong, physical and great around the basket. He’s effective from the perimeter too. Defensively, he rebounds everything and is a major presence as a rim protector.”

Awaka, who is undecided on his college destination, carries an A average academically. He follows recent Gatorade state honorees such as Brentwood’s Jordan Riley (Georgetown), Archbishop Stepinac’s RJ Davis (North Carolina), and Glens Falls’ Joe Girard III (Syracuse).

Catholic High School Graduates Appearing in Hoop Tournaments

You may find yourself flipping through the channels or college sports websites in the coming days to watch some archdiocesan Catholic high school graduates competing in the NCAA Division I postseason tournaments.

Here’s just a sample of what you may see.

Men’s basketball

NIT

Wednesday, March 16

Rick Pitino leads the MAAC regular-season champs from Iona College into action against the University of Florida at 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

NCAA tournament

Thursday, March 17

Cardinal Hayes High School graduate Joe Toussaint and fifth seed University of Iowa will play No. 12 Richmond in Buffalo at 3:10 p.m. (TruTV)

Archbishop Stepinac graduate RJ Davis and No. 8 University of North Carolina will oppose No. 9 Marquette in Fort Worth, Texas, at 4:30 p.m. (TBS)

Friday, March 18

Archbishop Stepinac graduate AJ Griffin and No. 2 Duke University will meet No. 15 Cal State Fullerton in Greenville, S.C., at 7:10 p.m. (CBS)

Women’s basketball

WNIT

Wednesday, March 16

Patriot League regular-season champs Holy Cross, led by coach and Our Lady of Lourdes High School graduate Maureen Magarity, will be in New York to play at Columbia University at 7 p.m.

Friday, March 18

Maria Regina graduate Kaitlyn Downey and Fordham University will host Bucknell at 7 p.m.

NCAA tournament

Saturday, March 19

Big East Player of the Year and Our Lady of Lourdes graduate Maddy Siegrist leads 11th-seeded Villanova University into action against No. 6 BYU at Ann Arbor, Mich., at 1 p.m. (ESPNN)

John S. Burke Catholic graduate Emily Stallings and No. 14 American University will play host and third seed University of Michigan at 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

In Norman, Okla., ACC Rookie of the Year Sonia Citron, a graduate of The Ursuline School, leads No. 5 Notre Dame into action against No. 12 UMass at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

PHOTO COURTESY OF DUKE UNIVERSITY

Raucci Heading to Hartwick

John F. Kennedy Catholic’s Kayla Raucci signed to play collegiate field hockey at Hartwick College in Oneonta.

Raucci was a four-year starter on defense and a team captain at Kennedy Catholic.

“Kayla exemplifies all you would want in a student-athlete,” said Kennedy Catholic field hockey coach Amanda Spano. “Hard work inside and outside of the classroom, a born leader. Kayla will be a great addition to the Hawks!”

Hartwick competes in the NCAA Division III’s Empire 8 Conference and finished 11-5 in 2021.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KENNEDY CATHOLIC

Weekend Basketball Schedule

Boys basketball

Friday, March 11

City championship AA: Cardinal Hayes 79, Stepinac 59

Saturday, March 12

State championship A: Canisius 85, Fordham Prep 49

Girls basketball

Friday, March 11

State semifinal A: St. Joseph by-the-Sea 78, Our Lady of Mercy Academy 59

Sunday, March 13

State championship B: Academy of Sacred Heart 55, St. Catharine’s Academy 33

State championship A: St. Joseph by-the-Sea 73, Holy Cross 25

State championship AA: St. Mary’s 59, Msgr. Scanlan 42

CHSAA Playoffs

Boys Basketball Playoffs

AA Division

First Round

Holy Cross 71, St. Peter’s 70

Second Round

Christ the King 66, Mount St. Michael 59

Molloy 71, Iona Prep 61

St. Raymond 67, Xaverian 59

Holy Cross 72, Msgr. Scanlan 66

Quarterfinals

St. Francis Prep 66, Molloy 50

Stepinac 86, St. Raymond 51

Cardinal Hayes 70, Christ the King 47

Bishop Loughlin 77, Holy Cross 61

Semifinals

Stepinac 73, Bishop Loughlin 57

Cardinal Hayes 73, St. Francis Prep 62

Final

Friday, March 11

MY No.2 Cardinal Hayes vs. No. 1 Stepinac, at Hofstra University, 8 p.m.

A Division

First Round

St. Edmund 58, Cardinal Spellman 50

All Hallows 49, Xavier 38

McClancy 58, LaSalle 52

Quarterfinals 

Nazareth 45, McClancy 39

Msgr. Farrell 42, St. Edmund 39

Fordham Prep 73, All Hallows 36

St. Joseph by-the-Sea 83, Salesian 59

Semifinals

Tuesday, March 1

at Molloy

Nazareth 52, Msgr. Farrell 47

Fordham prep 66, St Joseph 55

Final

Fordham Prep 42, Nazareth 38

B Division

First Round

Kennedy Catholic 78, Moore Catholic 61

Cristo Rey Brooklyn 46, Sacred Heart 39

St. John’s Prep 60, Regis 50

Semifinals

St. John’s Prep 66, Cristo Rey Brooklyn 60

Cathedral Prep 63, Kennedy Catholic 60

Final

Cathedral Prep 77, St. John’s Prep 64

PHOTO BY MARY DIBIASE BLAICH

Suarez Completes Season

John F. Kennedy Catholic Prep graduate Alexis Suarez completed her red-shirt sophomore season with the Dominican College women’s basketball team averaging 12.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.0 steals per game.

The guard, who now has 589 career points and was named CACC Player of the Week back in November, shot 41 percent from the field, 24 percent from beyond the three-point arc and 76 percent from the free-throw line.

Dominican finished 14-14 overall and with losses in its last three games after winning seven of its previous eight games.

PHOTO COURTESY OF DOMINICAN COLLEGE

Citron, Griffin Earn ACC Honors

Sonia Citron, a graduate of The Ursuline School, and Archbishop Stepinac High School graduate A.J. Griffin were recognized for strong seasons by the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Citron, a freshman forward for the University of Notre Dame, was named the ACC Rookie of the Year for women’s basketball. During the regular season, the six-time winner of ACC Freshman of the Week ranked among ACC freshmen with 6.8 rebounds per game and second with 11.7 points per game. she was one of three freshmen in the nation to average 11.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game.

Citron helped Notre Dame reach the ACC tournament semifinals as the third seed where it lost to the University of Miami and now waits to learn of its bid to the NCAA Division I tournament.

Griffin earned a spot on the ACC’s All-Rookie team and All-ACC honorable mention for men’s basketball. The freshman forward averaged 10.3 points per game and shot 51 percent from the field and 48 percent from beyond the three-point arc. During Duke’s eight-game winning streak late in the season, he averaged 16.1 points per game, and shot 56 percent from the field and from three-point range. He ranked second for Duke with his 12.6 points per game in ACC games.

Duke will be playing this week in the ACC tournament.

PHOTO COURTESY OF USA BASKETBALL

CHSAA Girls Basketball

Playoffs

Tier 1

Play-in

St. Francis Prep 57, St. John’s Prep 34

Msgr. McClancy 39, Xaverian 36

Quarterfinals

Bishop Loughlin 74, St. Francis Prep 64

Msgr. Scanlan 67, Mary Louis Academy 60

Nazareth 45, Archbishop Molloy 41

Christ the King 68, Msgr. McClancy 32

Semifinals

Msgr. Scanlan 69, Bishop Loughlin 66

Nazareth 61, Christ the King 50

Final

Msgr. Scanlan 47, Nazareth 43

Tier 2

Quarterfinals

Notre Dame Academy 52, Maria Regina 38

St. Joseph by-the-Sea 80, St. Jean Baptiste 43

St. Joseph Hill 70, Cardinal Spellman 35

Moore Catholic 62, Kennedy Catholic 56

Semifinals

St. Joseph by-the-Sea 77, Moore Catholic 45

St. Joseph Hill 71, Notre Dame Academy 50

Final

St. Joseph by-the-Sea 72, St. Joseph HIll 59

Tier 3

Play-in

Cristo Rey Brooklyn 55, St. Vincent Ferrer 51

Semifinals

Cathedral 61, Notre Dame 56

St. Catharine’s Academy 46, Cristo Rey Brooklyn 28

Final

St. Catherine’s Academy 30, Cathedral 29

Tier 4

Semifinals

Sacred Heart 60, St. Barnabas 25

Dominican Academy 45, Academy of Mount St. Ursula 29

Friday, March 4

Sacred Heart 49, Dominican 31