New kids on the block: Nazareth finds home in CHSAA B/Q Division I

Apache Paschall’s world is changing along with the landscape of CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Division I. For the first time in his decade-long career as a girls basketball head coach he and his team will have a division best suited for its talent to call home.

“I’m going to have to take my vitamins,” the Nazareth coach joked. “I’m looking forward to it.”

His Nazareth squad, made up of his former players from St. Michael Academy, was placed in Brooklyn/Queens Division I on June 8 at a league meeting. None of the league’s athletic directors objected to the move. Nazareth has not had a team in more than six years, according to CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens girls president Denise Hillig.

“I think everyone put personal opinions aside and knew that is where they needed to play,” Hillig said. “It is going to make our league stronger and this was the right thing to do.”

St. Michael Academy announced it was closing in March and Paschall and his girls chose to go to Nazareth in early May. When he was at St. Mike’s, where he won the state Federation Class AA title in 2009, he played against Class B competition during the regular season. Now the Lady Kingsmen will face the likes of defending Federation champion Christ the King, Mary Louis, Bishop Ford and Archbishop Molloy at least twice a season. Nazareth’s placement the Division I was not unexpected to Paschall or the league coaches.

“We have played against everyone across the country before, we have won a championship and dealt with all types of situations,” Paschall said. “Today I was reflecting a little bit and was like, ‘Wow, since I have been coaching girls basketball this is the first time that we are going to play a real schedule.’”

In the past he has said that his perennial nationally ranked teams have played a “12-game schedule”, made up non-league games against some the best teams in the country. Paschall has always believed it has put them at a disadvantage against its competition, which was going “to war” on a nightly basis, when it came time for the CHSAA state playoffs. Now that won’t be the case.

“We thought that was the fairest standard of play,” Mary Louis coach and athletic director Joe Lewinger said. “Any time you have a league that grows I think it’s a good thing.”

Added Molloy coach Tom Catalanotto: “We all knew that it was coming.”

Putting Nazareth in Division I does have its ramifications. Paschall cannot travel like he did in the past. Brooklyn/Queens rules only allow one trip longer than a 500-mile radius. It also expands the league to eight teams and reduces the number of non-league games teams can play by two. Their inclusion could also have repercussions on the structure of the CHSAA state tournament, according to Hillig.

“It’s bad in the regard that I have to now tell two teams that we play year in and year out that we are not going to be able to do it,” Christ the King coach Bob Mackey said. “That’s not a good thing. I’m not looking forward to that. … But if it’s going add two good games to the league than let’s play.”

It is still unclear exactly how strong Paschall’s squad will be even with the majority of his players, including Division I caliber forwards Tiffany Jones and Taylor Ford, coming along. He said that guards Starr Breedlove, Darius Faulk and Tayshana (Chicken) Murphy have recently told him that they are still interested in joining the rest of their former teammates at Nazareth, but he does not want to count on their arrival until they are enrolled at the school.

“Nobody really knows what’s there,” Mackey said. “I don’t know who is registered in Nazareth. We won’t know that until next year.”

It is a year that, with Nazareth’s inclusion, could bring about the deepest and most competitive Brooklyn/Queens league ever. Bishop Ford had its best season in recent years, Bishop Kearney and St. Francis Prep are much improved and Bishop Loughlin is on the rise.

Welcome to the Big East of high school girls basketball,” Bishop Ford coach Mike Toro said. “Come prepared to play or it will become a long day. It makes the league fun and the very best in the country.”

It’s an environment that will take some getting used to for Paschall, along with other things.

“They told me I have to dress up for every game,” said Paschall, who has coached contests in jeans and t-shirts in the past. “I might have to [go shopping].”