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The Land Hasn't Left: Northland Repeats As City League Champs

By Greg Glasser, 02/17/24, 3:30PM EST


The Vikings were in complete control against South in 63-46 win

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In the midst of a week that offered plenty of outside noise and distraction, the Northland Vikings instead turned negativity into motivation and delivered an undisputed 63-46 over Columbus South, as they earned their second straight City League Championship on Saturday at East high school.

Beyond the opening tip where South took an early 6-2 lead, back-to-back buckets from King Kendrick gave the Vikings a five-point advantage and was the catalyst for a 16-2 run to end the period.

The Vikings not only received a strong distribution of production, but benefitted and contributed towards a frustrating day offensively for the Bulldogs. A majority of South’s shot attempts were far off the mark and even attempts around the rim were harder to come by than usual. At the half, Maurice McCall and LaJames Washington had all but three of South’s points.

Meanwhile Northland looked the part of a focused, dialed-in unit that had a balanced scoring output amongst its starting core. Whether it was defensively, on the glass or moving the ball, the Vikings seemingly out-produced the South in every measure.

“We just had total preparation, we were totally locked in,” Northland assistant coach Leo Cleary-Foerlle said, who assumed lead coach duties as head coach Tihon Johnson observed, but had a reserved role due to a religious observation. “We had our best practice this past week of the whole year, everyone knew what to expect and everyone was prepared.”

While Northland was in this position last season, outside of Kendrick, a majority of the participants were new to the limelight and expectations of a City League championship, even Cleary-Foerlle who has played or coached in the district since 2008, but joined the Vikings prior to the season. The additional starters of sophomores Diante James and Jaden Shoultz, along with junior Nehemiah McMorris, transferred to the Vikings prior to the season. 

“I’m speechless right now, I’m so happy” James said after the game. “I’m glad I got a team like this by my side, to help me be the best player I can be and we just do this all together as one.”

James, who played his freshman season at Canal Winchester, made an impact as co-guard with Kendrick. James finished with seven points, three assists and three steals. He was joined by McMorris and Shoultz, who finished with 17 and 16 points, respectively. Shoultz was a legitimate long-distance threat, but also attacked the rim well, while McMorris was the game’s best rebounder and finished with a game-high seven boards.

While it was an undoubtedly group effort, Kendrick once again made his mark on the conference’s biggest stage and put together an impressive two-way performance that saw him finish with 16 points, five rebounds, a game-high four assists along with two steals and a block. Beyond his highlight-worthy makes and dimes, it was the composure, experience and leadership of the mature sophomore that made an equal impact.

“I try to keep my boys confident and to stay calm at all times,” Kendrick said as he was often seen talking to his teammates in huddles and timeouts. “We’re young, so I have to tell them that we do have to keep going, but to slow it down at times.”

With Kendrick, there seems to be an undeniable aura about him, not only in the way he plays, but the way he exhibits a strong sense of pride not only for the jersey he wears, but for representing Columbus as a whole.

“I’m trying to bring our legacy back, but we gotta keep winning,” Kendrick said. “I want to keep progressing to be the best team in the city and the best team in the state.”

The opportunity to win came throughout a week of controversy, albeit no fault to Northland or South. The Vikings technically were tied with Linden McKinley for first in the division and the typical CCS tiebreaker goes to the team that has the most distant title game appearance, which would have been Linden. But due to Linden having too many games on the schedule, they were not granted the opportunity to play, which gave Northland a chance for the repeat.

“Linden had an amazing season, shout out to their kids and their coaches, they had a special team,” Cleary-Foerlle said. “But we felt we were supposed to be here and we proved that today.

James agreed the outside chatter only fueled the Vikings to make a statement against South.

“All the hate coming into this game and we just blocked it all out,” James said. “We came to this game to win, we were all locked in.”

While South had trouble to keep pace with the Vikings, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. The Bulldogs were led in particular by their senior duo of McCall and Washington, who combined for 30 points.

Although the double-digit loss may be difficult to accept, South nonetheless should be commended for going undefeated during league play and proved much of the preseason predictions of Walnut Ridge repping the division wrong after they defeated the Scots in both games this year.

But after King Kendrick had a breakout performance in this moment last season as an underdog against Africentric, most of the pressure and expectations were on Northland to become the first City League team to repeat as champions since 2015 and 2016, which was done by you guessed it, the Vikings.

“All year, we said this team not only has to be in the City [championship game], but win it,” Kendrick said. “If we’re the kings of the city, we can’t lose it. Now that we won, we’re kings of the city for real.”

After Saturday’s dominant performance, the crown rightfully resides on Northcliff Drive. Now, attention turns to the district tournament and if the Vikings are for real contenders in the region.

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