Gaels take home OFSAA title for 3rd year

Gaels take home OFSAA title for 3rd year
Posted on 11/27/2023
Gaels pose for OFSAA win

By Larry Moko

For the first time in his life, Jim Daly climbed the ladder and clipped a string off the net to celebrate one of his basketball team’s championship performances.

The scene was Cathedral High School Saturday afternoon and the Gaels had just defeated the St. John Henry Newman Cardinals 81-43 to capture the 2023 OFSAA girls’ AAA title.

It was the third consecutive provincial gold medal for the Gaels and Daly – a former Cathedral principal, player and boys’ coach – served as an assistant coach throughout the run.

This season, four of his grandchildren (Nicole, Keira, Rachel and Lauren) did a lot of the heavy lifting for the Gaels as players. In addition, his son, Kevin, guided the squad as head coach while daughter-in-law, Sandra, was one of the assistants along with Luca Fortino, Paul Taylor and Maya Flynn.

“I’ve never snipped the net before,” Daly said after witnessing Cathedral roll to its OFSAA three-peat and 90th straight overall victory. “I did it because this is a dream come true.

“I’ve been able to sit on the bench with four grandchildren and win 90 games in a row. Who else is in a situation like that?

This is the Grade 12 year for Nicole, Keira and Rachel, while Lauren was a junior-team call-up for the three-day OFSAA competition.

“My son did a brilliant job coaching for the last three years,” Daly added.

Never before had Cathedral even won an OFSAA girls’ basketball medal in until 2021.

Daly still marvels at Keira’s statistics from Friday’s victory over the fifth-seeded Pickering Trojans. “She scored 23 points in the first quarter of an OFSAA championship semifinal,” he said. “I’ve never heard of that … men or women. It may have happened but I’ve never heard of it.”

In a final featuring two Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic teams, the Gaels held quarter leads of 32-16, 47-21 and 72-59.

Keira led all scorers with 26 points. Her twin sister Nicole added 20 and their cousin, Rachel, tossed in 17 points (including five 3-point baskets).

Larissa Ruggiero and Grace MacDonald replied with 16 and 13 points, respectively, for the Cardinals.

“There was nobody in the province that had the skill level of our top four players,” Daly said. “But the skill level of the twins was off the chart.”

The Cathedral press defence excelled at creating turnovers and in all five of its victories the Gaels raced to a big leads going into the second quarter –30-6, 28-6, 28-4, 30-11 and 32-16.

“(Cathedral) shot the lights out in the first half,” Newman coach Roy Milutinovic said. “They had seven 3s to our three. The last time we played them they didn’t make many 3s. We were giving them that shot because we were packing it inside to make sure they didn’t attack the basket.”

The silver medal at OFSAA was the second for Milutinovic and assistants John Nardini and Mary DeGiuli. Newman’s last second-place finish was in 2018.

“They’re a fantastic team,” Milutinovic said. “What are you going to do? Everybody has a game plan against them and everybody loses.”

Newman has faced Cathedral six times without success this season and Milutinovic estimates the total to be 14 over the last three years.

“I was really impressed with how composed and calm we were,” the Cathedral head coach said. “We shot as well as we’ve ever shot. And in an OFSAA final you don’t expect that. You expect the nerves to get you.

“But I think because this was our third time, we were relaxed in front of a large crowd. We’re comfortable in this environment and it showed.”

Nicole said the best part of the team’s triumph this year was playing with friends in front of the home crowd.

“Our team shot super well,” she said. “And, for sure, defence helps us win championships. That’s been the key for us the last three years.”

The twins have attracted interest from schools across Canada and, according to Nicole, they’re “a package deal.”

“We don’t know where we’re going next year,” Nicole said. “We’re still visiting schools. We’ve got a few more coming up.”

The veteran Cathedral group that participated in all three OFSAAs is comprised of Nicole, Keira, Rachel, Nubeah Clarke and Flynn, who played part of this season before getting injured and staying on as an assistant coach.

The rest of the Cathedral roster included Angelina Medeiros, Chayla Chase, Tea Papalia, Beatrice Clausen, Mekeelah Dillon, junior call up Naomi Stanley and Mika Losak.

Cathedral, incidentally, doesn’t hold the record for most consecutive victories by a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic school. That was 139 achieved by the Bishop Ryan Celtics when they won three straight OFSAA championships from 1977-79.

CHS and Newman in OFSAA finalCHS and Newman in OFSAA finalDaly cutting string off basketball netNewman basketball players pose for team photoCHS basketball team pose
Photos by Richard Andoga

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