Royalty on Display in Girls’ Hoops State Championship

The 2023-2024 CHSAA girls’ ‘AA’ varsity basketball state champion Christ the King Lady Royals. (Photo: Jim Mancari)

A team is a team for a reason: On the biggest stage, it takes all members of a team contributing to the overall cause to be successful. 

That’s how it was done in the CHSAA girls’ varsity basketball ‘AA’ state championship, as the Christ the King H.S., Middle Village, squad took down St. Joseph by-the-Sea H.S., Staten Island, 85-63 in the title game played March 9 at Hofstra University’s David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex. 

For the Lady Royals — who finished the regular season 21-3 — it’s the program’s 17th Catholic state title. To get there, the team captured its 30th Brooklyn-Queens diocesan championship as well as its 30th New York City championship, which also was a victory over St. Joseph by-the-Sea. All three victories completed the “triple crown” of CHSAA ‘AA’ girls’ basketball. 

After tallying just 12 points in the first quarter, Christ the King established the momentum early in the second, with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 19. The first half featured seven ties and six lead changes, with the Lady Royals ahead of the Vikings by four at halftime. 

“Overall, we’re always a second-half team no matter what,” said sophomore center Olivia Vukosa, ranked ESPN’s No. 2 high school sophomore in the country. “Whatever the coaches say to us in the locker room always gets us fired up and ready to play the second half.” 

A 10-0 Royal run started off the third quarter, as the team found its groove offensively. Christ the King opened a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter and never looked back. 

Vukosa notched a double-double with 24 points and 16 rebounds while adding three assists and four blocks. Senior Aiyanna Culver turned in an all-around effort with 17 points, eight assists, and three steals. Fellow senior Skylah Kemp tallied 10 points, and junior Maia Velazquez scored seven points, grabbed seven boards, and had three steals. 

Freshman Arielle Lopez poured in 12 points with five rebounds, two assists, and three steals, and freshman Josephine Pinnock starred off the bench, scoring six of her eight points in the fourth quarter to go along with three assists and two steals. 

Earlier this season, the Lady Royals program lost its former legendary head coach Vinny Cannizzaro, who coached for 19 seasons and led his teams to 16 consecutive diocesan championships. His spirit no doubt guided these Lady Royals to their state crown. 

“For all those girls who won it before, the tradition continues,” said Bob Mackey, Christ the King’s head coach who served as an assistant under Cannizzaro. “That’s what this group is all about. They want to know the tradition is still ongoing, and they worked their tails off to uphold it.” 

Christ the King now moves on to a new chapter in New York City high school postseason basketball history. For the first time, the champions of the CHSAA will take on the winners of the Public Schools Athletic League to crown the undisputed city champion in each division. 

The event takes place March 24 and 25 at the Steinberg Wellness Center on the campus of Long Island University in Downtown Brooklyn. This serves as an alternative to the now-canceled New York State Federation Tournament of Champions.