By Joseph Staszewski
Christ the King was supposed to make its return to the state Federation tournament – last season.
The Royals were loaded a year ago with a veteran roster, a McDonald’s All-American in Sierra Calhoun and current MAAC All-Rookie team selection Kollyns Scarbrough, who is at Siean. That group’s season was cut short by Bianca Cuevas and Nazareth in the CHSAA ‘AA’ semifinals, leaving its remaining players unmotivated and feeling underrated.
“Last year’s team was supposed to,” Christ the King coach Bob Mackey said. “This year was supposed to be a rebuilding year.”
That perception was never lost on this CK squad and was brought up again in the pregame speech before it beat Archbishop Molloy 62-55 for the school’s first Catholic state title since 2010.
The Royals heard from day one how, despite the return of guard Dominque Toussaint and Sydney Zambrotta, it had fallen back within its own division. Loughlin was young and talented and Molloy was veteran and hungry. How would those two fare in the spotlight and would their supporting cast improve around them?
“Last year’s team was excellent,” Toussaint said. “I think this year we played more as a team, more as a group. In our heart we really wanted to go there and prove ourselves to everyone.”
So they have.
Zambrotta played the best overall game of her Royals’ career against Molloy in the state final by scoring 32 points, grabbing six rebounds, dishing out four assists and drawing two offensive fouls. Toussaint added 16 points and seven boards. Those two have played pretty much as expected or better all season, but new factors have emerged.
Junior forward Kaela Kinder has picked up her game the last four weeks and is providing an inside presence similar to what CK got from Nia Oden in 2010. Ashlie Howell has been a force inside off the bench and the energy and defense from guard Raven Dowling has also been key. The Royals aren’t celebrating anything without them.
“Everybody thinks this is a rebuilding team,” Howell said. “We wanted to prove everybody wrong and show everyone we could make it to states.”
The crown didn’t come easy and the adversity is one of the things both Mackey and Toussaint believed shaped this team into a winner. Last year’s club didn’t lose a game from the Nike Tournament of Champions in December to its season-ending defeat. This year the Royals went 4-4 in their first eight games including lopsided losses to Paul VI (N.J.), Braintree (Mass.) and a 75-49 defeat to Capital Prep (Conn.). CK has lost just three games since and is on nine-game winning streak.
“They got it together in January and they hung tough,” Mackey said. “We’ve had good play. We haven’t had great play, but it has gotten more consistent and they have improved so much from the beginning.
It has the Royals two wins away from a state Federation crown in a year early on that many thought just winning Brooklyn/Queens would be an accomplishment for this group. Their sights were always higher and now nearly accomplished.