HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Nichols girls basketball team ended a dynasty that reigned over half of their lives.
Affirming its regular season sweep with a 46-43 playoff victory, Nichols usurped Cardinal O’Hara, winners of the past nine Monsignor Martin A division championships, to claim the league title Thursday night at Hilbert College
“It was just a phenomenal team win,” Vikings coach Kayleigh Rizzo said. “The senior leadership took over.”
“It just feels amazing,” said Nichols senior guard Quinn Benchley, who took game MVP honors, described the championship conquest as “It’s honestly surreal.”
Benchley scored 19 points and teamed with senior guard Cianna Tobia to close out the win while star center Brianna Barr-Buday battled leg cramping over the final five minutes.
“The senior leadership really took over,” said Rizzo, a former Niagara University player.
O’Hara coach Nick O’Neil praised Nichols as worthy champions after winning each of the three matchups this season.
“I have to be honest, they were the better team the three times we played them,” O’Neil said. “They deserved to go the AA playoffs.”
As Msgr. Martin champions for the first time since 2009, Nichols moves on to the Catholic state semifinals next Saturday.
The championship game between an O’Hara team ranked No. 16 in the state in Class AA and a Nichols team ranked No. 5 in Class A, drew a crowd of several hundred to Hilbert’s Hafner Center. It featured a post matchup between Barr-Buday, a 6-foot-2 junior who has verbally committed to University at Buffalo, and O’Hara’s Kara Hayes, a 6-foot sophomore who received a scholarship offer from UB this week.
Hayes led the Hawks with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
“It was a hard-fought game,” O’Neil said. “I have to give Nichols all the credit. They slowed us down offensively. They took away our jump shots. We turned the ball over and we played right into their hands.”
While O’Hara’s run of league championships ended, the Hawks can still contend for a state championship. They will play St. Mary’s on Saturday for a spot in the Catholic state A tournament.
“I’m hurt for the kids,” O’Neil said. “They feel like they let the tradition down. I talked to them about how everything comes to an end at a certain time. And we still have a shot to play on.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.