It wasn’t easy, but when all was said and done in an historic season that was complicated by an ongoing pandemic, the St. Mary’s High School girls team was No. 1 – again.
Though they won’t be officially crowned as state champions for the second year in a row, Jeff Newhall’s 2020-21 Lady Spartans were unquestionably one of the best teams in the state.
Twenty wins – the most in the state. Another title in the highly competitive Catholic Central League. A 1,000-point scorer in Division 1-bound Sacred Heart commit Maiya Bergdorf. One of the most successful players in school history in Endicott-College bound Nicolette D’Itria, who led a senior class that produced 80 wins in four years.
A rising star guard in sophomore Yirsy Queliz who will be a future All-Scholastic if she is not one already. The superb sixth-person junior who became a huge contributor as a starter as a senior, Alyssa Grossi. And the breakout season of St. Mary’s next great all-around player, sophomore Kellyn Preira.
On Saturday at the Tony Conigliaro Gymnasium that would have been packed for the championship showdown against rival Fenwick under normal circumstances, St. Mary’s showed its mettle.
After pulling away to a substantial lead in the third quarter, St. Mary’s held off the fast-closing Crusaders to take a 46-40 victory and the CCL Cup championship trophy.
D’Itria was the unofficial MVP of the game, with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. D’Itria took over the proceedings with three successive 3-pointers in third quarter that helped expand the lead to 39-16.
“It feels great to be CCL champions and especially to get the chance to beat Fenwick in our home gym – it’s a great way to end our senior season,” said D’Itria. “Eventually my shots started falling at the right time. I had a great five years (grades 8-12) with Coach Newhall and all the coaches. It was a great team to be with each year.”
Newhall said that D’Itria was a difference maker in the title game.
“Nicolette played well all game, but the three 3-pointers in third quarter – that’s when we made our run,” said Newhall. “That’s probably the sequence that won the game for us.”
Queliz had nine points and will return next year to pilot a potential run to the Garden. Preira (7 points) and Grossi (6) played well for the Spartans. Grossi was also the game’s leading rebounder with 11 caroms. Bergdorf, a talented 6-foot center, emerged from early foul trouble to score six points and end her special career with a second consecutive championship.
“When you look back at the season, you can’t help but be more than happy,” said Newhall, whose career record is now a lofty 323-137. “We were the best team in the regular season and the best team in the post season.”
Newhall thanked his five seniors – Nicolette D’Itria, Alyssa Grossi, Maiya Bergdorf, Van Nguyen, and Pej’ae Parent – for their contributions to the program.
“We have five great seniors that have been through a lot,” said Newhall. “They go out as winners and they’ve had an unbelievable run. It’s going to be tough to see them move on, but the future is bright.”
Newhall was assisted on the St. Mary’s staff by coaches Jim Foley, Mike Jalbert, Tim Spinney, Alison McCarthy, and Victoria Ault.