Neumann-Goretti girls capture Catholic League title

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Neumann-Goretti girls share a special moment after winning first Catholic League title in 36 years.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Neumann-Goretti girls share a special moment after winning first Catholic League title in 36 years.
Posted: February 26, 2014

CIANI CRYOR hugged Shanni Martin and A.J. Timbers near midcourt. Her teammates looked at her and smiled. They knew they had the Catholic League title wrapped up for Ss. Neumann-Goretti for the first time in 36 years.

The Saints' 55-46 win over Archbishop Wood sealed what was a magical season for them. They won their 24th straight game, in front of a few thousand at the Palestra, but none was as sweet as last night's. All the hours they put in throughout the season paid off when they cut down the nets.

"It's been 36 years," Neumann-Goretti coach Letty Santarelli said. "We are building a program. The girls make the effort of making the program. They work hard academically. Their teachers love them. They come to practice every day and they work very hard. They don't want to leave the gym, we have to kick them out."

The Saints already beat Wood this season and were ready to extend their win streak to 24. Even their mascot wore a 24 jersey to signify what they were after. Cryor was a huge part of why the South Philadelphia school was able to do so.

"I have total confidence," Santarelli said of Cryor. "She is one of the reasons why we are here. She communicates, she is a role model, she is a leader. She is a super player. We are really proud of her."

The junior point guard did not have her best shooting game, but led her team forcefully. She had 12 points on 3-for-13 shooting, but was 5-for-6 from the free-throw line. None of those shots was bigger than the two free throws she hit with 44.2 seconds remaining to push her team out to a three-possession lead.

Cryor was the most vocal of the Saints during the net-cutting ceremony. She shouted "Catholic League, baby!" multiple times with her teammates, all with a wide smile on her face.

"We're a family. We stick together," Cryor said.

Cryor is the one to keep that family together. She transferred from Prep Charter, where she won a Public League title last year. Despite being a new face, she is the undisputed leader to her teammates.

"That's my favorite point guard of all time," Martin said. "Best point guard in Philadelphia. I've been playing with her since we were 7. That's the best point guard. I have every bit of confidence you can have in that point guard."

Cryor had the ball in her hands for essentially all of the final 2 minutes, and that is the way she wants it. She said she loves leading the team in the final minutes, but also is a leader off the court.

"On the court, she is very focused," Santarelli said. "Off the court, she is very sincere, a super young lady. All her teachers love her, and that translates. She is a good person, so that translates onto the floor with her teammates. That's respect from her teammates."

Even when the game took a bad turn for the Saints, and Wood climbed to within 44-43 in the fourth quarter, powered by Bailey Greenberg (17 points), the Saints knew what they had to do to capture that elusive Catholic League championship.

"It did get tight, but we have to stick together, which we did," Martin said. "We stick together through anything. Through our confidence, we build each other up. That's how it is with our team."

That confidence led the Saints to a perfect season, and a feeling of accomplishment.

"It's awesome, I must say," Emmanuela Awobajo said. "It is unbelieveable. It is a dream come true for me, because this is where I want to be, this is what I want to feel. Right now, I am just super happy."

"The girls have worked hard all season long," Santarelli said. "They came focused, determined, they are passionate for the game. I am so proud of them. They do everything that we ask and more. They just love the game."

Neumann-Goretti next plays Public League champ Imhotep on Saturday at 1 p.m. at St. Joseph's Prep for the Class AA city title.

A refereeing first

Referee Natasha Camy became the first African-American woman to officiate a Catholic League championship game. Camy is an official for NCAA Division I games, and is from the Philadelphia area. She played at Archbishop Carroll High and Widener University.

On Twitter: @AndrewJAlbert01

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