It’s not often players get a shot at redemption after a tournament finals’ loss from the season before. It’s difficult to get back to the same spot.
In the case of Notre Dame-Fairfield, add in the fact it’s a different team and a different tournament for those players. But that group of kids playing for the Lancers, it is still a shot at redemption.
Second-seeded Notre Dame-Fairfield faces top seed Kolbe Cathedral in Thursday night’s South-West Conference tournament final at Brookfield High. Tip time is set for 6:30 p.m. Rassoul Abakan and Akim Joseph and guard Andrew Saint-Louis are all seniors for Notre Dame, one season after being juniors at Trinity Catholic.
The Crusaders lost in the FCIAC tournament final last season to Ridgefield. The school closed in June. Abakan, Joseph and Saint-Louis transferred to Notre Dame.
“Certainly there is unfinished business from last year,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kriftcher said “Only one team (per league) ends a high school career on a victory. That in of itself has to provide some fuel.”
“Down-to-earth honest, this is not unfinished business for me,” Kriftcher said. “Three kids come from the outside and there were six or seven kids who returned from last year. Early on, I made the push that it is one team. There is no such thing as a former Notre Dame guy or former Trinity Catholic guy.”
Notre Dame, ranked eighth in the latest GameTimeCT Top 10 poll, stands at 10-1, The Lancers lost three regular-season games when they were out of action for two weeks due to COVID-19 quarantine.
Among the teams Notre Dame didn’t face this season was Kolbe Cathedral. The Cougars (13-0) are ranked sixth in te state and are the defending SWC tournament champions.
“Notre Dame is a really good team, no question about it,” Kolbe coach John Pfohl said. “We have to do what we do. If we can do what we do, hopefully, it will be enough to win. If it’s not, we tip our hat to the other team and off we go.”
The Cougars have won every game by double digits this season, thanks to a well-balanced offense, stellar defense and Pfohl providing the necessary motivation.
“I think Kolbe is a talented team. Their athleticism is a mirror image of us,” Kriftcher said. “I give them credit, they play with great defensive intensity. They go 100 percent every play. I think we have to match that intensity for sure. Everyone who play them, plays them on their heels. Playing on your heels plays right into their hands.”
While the two teams did not square off during the season, Kolbe had played for several seasons in Trinity’s Jack Smyth Tournament each December.
“We respect them a lot and I respect John a lot, but we don’t fear them,” Kriftcher said. “They have decimated everybody, but we don’t fear them.”
When: Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Brookfield High
Matchup: No. 1 Kolbe Cathedral (13-0) vs. No. 2 Notre Dame-Fairfield (10-1)
Livestream: NFHS (subscription required)
Championship game appearances: Kolbe is 9-4 in its previous SWC finals and is the defending champion. Notre Dame is 4-3, winning three straight titles from 2016-18.
What to look for: Plenty of defense. Both teams have held all but one opponent to under 60 points. The key is: Will that defense turn into easy points for either side? Neither team has faced the type of athleticism in any other game this season so, there should be plenty of spectacular plays on both slides. Daniel Wellington and Ty Staples-Santos lead the way for Kolbe while Rassoul Abakan and Akim Joseph do the same for Notre Dame.
You should know: This is the first time Kolbe and Notre Dame have met in a league tournament final.