But if you told him that his Christ the King girls’ basketball squad would be 24-0 and second in the USA Today National Super 25 Girls’ Rankings following a regular season schedule littered with prominent programs across the city, region and country, he might’ve thought you were inebriated.
“I would’ve said, I would like to know what you’re having because it must make you very happy,” Mackey, smiling, told this paper following a Thursday morning team practice in Middle Village.
But today, this is exactly the case.
The Royals are second only to San Jose, California-based Archbishop Mitty in the USA National Rankings ahead of the upcoming Brooklyn/Queens Catholic League playoffs, which begin on Thursday, followed by the CHSAA “AA” title tournament the following week.
The Brooklyn/Queens playoff championship is where the Royals saw their season end a year ago with a 66-64 loss to The Mary Louis Academy, determined by a game winner with 3.4 seconds left.
“After that we were just all heartbroken and hysterically crying, just walking off with each other arm and arm,” said Klarke Sconiers, a 6-foot-3 standout junior. “I remember being in that locker room and saying we never wanna feel this way again, and we should never feel this way again.
“We just came out this season with a different kind of push,” she added. “Last year shouldn’t have unraveled like it did.”
Over the course of their perfect regular season, the Queens-based club has defeated a number of other ranked teams.
The Royals opened their 2017-18 schedule by edging fourth-ranked Paul VI (Virginia), who is still eighth in the country, by one point. From December 20-23, they competed at the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina, going 4-0 and defeating high-level teams like Winder Barrow (Georgia), Wesleyan Christian (North Carolina) and St. Francis (Georgia).
On January 27, the Royals defeated Riverdale Baptist, who were third in the country at one point, by double-digits, as well as handling CHSAA competition like Mary Louis, Archbishop Molloy, and Long Island Lutheran.
They’ve played everybody, but more importantly, they’ve beaten everybody, some by 20, others by 30, occasionally by 40-plus.
“I’ve seen those as statement games every time we’ve played a ranked team,” said Royal guard Kaelynn Satterfield, one of the country’s highest rated juniors at her position. “It’s just that we were doubted so much, so we have that mindset to prove everybody wrong. Our regular season league games, we knew we had to dominate.
“I don’t think anyone was expecting us to play as well as we did against nationally ranked teams,” she continued. “It wasn’t like this last year, we were basically in close games all the time.”
It’s clear that the lesson learned last season has not been lost on this group. Coach Mackey thinks that the title loss taught the team, most of which returned this year, to not take anything for granted.
“There were games they didn’t show up,” Mackey said. “We were here physically, but mentally it’s very hard to stay focused for 24 games. Some games they kind of went through the motions. They didn’t do that this year. Even in games we knew we had to win, they stayed focused and worked hard.
“They’re a little older and a little more mature,” he added. “The pressure is still there, I just think we’re a little more prepared. You just hope that it’s enough.”
In preparation for their this year’s campaign, the team implemented off-campus CrossFit workouts into their regimen before the season. The Royals worked with trainers who designed workouts specifically for them based on needs and discussions with the team.
The workouts were two days per week on Fresh Pond Road, and at times they also ran with the school’s track team at Juniper Valley Park.
“It was a really nice experience,” Sconiers said of the pre-season preparations, CrossFit in particular. “We did a lot of range of motions, lifting and a lot of conditioning. That really helps us on the court, with transition and being in better shape than most of the teams we play.”
Every game is a playoff game from this point forward, and with the team being undefeated through a whole regular season, and second in the country with a shot at a National Championship, their upcoming opponents will play harder than they already would with their season on the line.
While the team believed they were this capable, coach Mackey insists that they’re not yet able to join the “all-time greats” in the school’s storied history of outstanding teams just yet.
“All those teams up there, and all those teams over there on that board, they’re not up there yet,” said Mackey, pointing at numerous accolades on the walls of the Royal gym. “The bar is raised, my job is just keep them on the road. They can veer off, they can change lanes, but don’t get off the road. It’s on them to finish.
“There’s some coaches who you can give credit to, but my job is to set the table,” he continued. “They’ve got to make the food, I’ve got to make sure that they’re prepared. If they lose a game now it’s over, it doesn’t matter what you did in the regular season.”