Last Updated: 3:39 AM, March 25, 2012
Posted: 2:16 AM, March 25, 2012
ALBANY – Saturday’s New York State Federation Class B championship game had perfect symmetry for Collegiate and its star seniors Ryan Frankel and Connor Huff.
The two seniors enjoyed typically productive games at both ends of the floor, their teammates fit their roles to a tee and the Dutchmen cruised to their fifth straight ‘B’ state title, topping Bishop Ludden of Syracuse, 62-52, a commanding victory at the Times Union Center that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate.
“There’s no better feeling in the world,” said Frankel, the tournament MVP who had 19 points and six assists. “There are a few days you’re going to remember the rest of your life and this is going to be one of them.”
It was typical Collegiate under coach Ray Voelkel, building a large early lead, taking away its opponents strengths, maximizing its own and systematically breaking down its foe.
“Being on this big stage, we’re not fazed,” Huff said. “We just play our game. Other teams get nervous and we don’t, we thrive on that and take advantage."
Just a day earlier, the Gaelic Knights looked unbeatable, racking up a 66-59 win over CHSAA champion Nazareth. They made eight 3-pointers, moved the ball around the perimeter so briskly they created 21 assists and forwards Ben Hackett and Daniel Kaigler thrived in the paint and along the baseline, showing off deft touches and athleticism to match.
Collegiate (27-3), the tiny private school from the Upper West Side, turned Ludden’s attack on its side, limiting the Syracuse school to 19 points until there was 3:30 left in the third quarter. It reached that same point total in the opening quarter against Nazareth. Collegiate went to a big lineup with Huff, Henry Frye and Marc Jasbik up front and doubled Hackett and Kaigler in the paint, forcing Ludden to beat them on the perimeter.
And while the Gaelic Knights were misfiring from deep, Collegiate was adding onto its lead, Frankel orchestrating the offense, Huff (15 points, 10 rebounds) finishing inside and Willie Gwathmey (10 points) and Henry Frye (six points, 10 rebounds) making Ludden pay when it did double-team the two standouts.
It was 28-17 by halftime and 49-26 entering the fourth. The state title was never really in doubt.
“This means everything, to me, to our program,” Huff said. “I’m gonna miss playing with Ryan and all these guys so much, I’m gonna miss Coach Voelkel’s wisdom. I’ve learned so much from him.”
The two seniors capped remarkable careers on Saturday, going out on top as champions with relative ease. Voelkel said he would put them at the top of the list with the best he’s coached.
Last year’s title was dramatic – Huff beat Salesian on a putback at the buzzer – but this one held more significance because it was the final game for seven of the program’s players.
“It’s just been a glorious season,” Voelkel said.
It also felt similar to so many of the Dutchmen’s other wins in the Federation tournament, 10 in a row and counting. It included a stalwart defensive effort, crisp execution and on-target free throw shooting to ice the win.
“We’ve played our best basketball at the end when it mattered most,” Voelkel said.
There was a bittersweet feeling to the championship for Huff and Frankel. There will be no more Ivy League or NYSAISAA crowns, no more trips to Albany. Their life as Collegiate basketball players – both described the last few years as the best experience of their lives – is over.
“I don’t want to take [the jersey] off,” Frankel said. “I may wear it the rest of the weekend. With this jersey comes a little bit of pride. … I’m so happy and so proud to be a part of the Collegiate basketball program.”
It would seem like a sixth straight state title is a long shot with so many holes to fill. Then again, very few expected Collegiate to win one. It has lost other talents, only to reload. Huff isn’t worried about the streak ending.
“We have a lot of talent coming back,” the departing senior said. “I’m not nervous.”