One of the many traditions that became part of St. Mary's girls basketball during its growth into a state champion was that before each game, all the players would give themselves the same temporary tattoos on their wrists, written in magic marker.
Before Friday's state Federation semifinal win, players wrote "11-9-09," because that was the date on which their season began with their first practice. On Saturday morning, they wrote "3-27-10" to show how far they had come.
The Catholic state champion Lancers' first trip to the Federation tournament ended with a 72-47 rout at the hands of a far superior opponent in Irvington of Section I (Westchester County), the state public school champion, before an estimated 300 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
"After a 10-year period, you can get on the Wall of Fame at St. Mary's, and I told the team that when you come back 10 years from now, you're going to see girls out there with their tattoos on their wrist, and you'll see them doing their 'I believe' chant before the game, and you're going to know that you started that," said fourth-year coach Keith Junik, who took over St. Mary's after the Lancers had won only four games in the previous three seasons.
Saturday, however, was owned by Irvington. Moments after their title win, Bulldog players followed their coach, Gena Maher, upstairs to the Civic Center's Heritage Hall for her induction into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame. The 34-year coach's 445th career win was a display of excellent basketball.
Tara Gabelman, a 5-foot-10 senior, scored 31 points and earned MVP honors for the Bulldogs, who had a 12-11 lead on St. Mary's late in the first quarter before they went on a monster 31-1 run. Irvington had a 48-24 halftime lead, a 64-32 advantage after three quarters and its lead topped out at 34. Irvington was taller, faster, played super-tough defense and was clinical in the way it ran its offense and fast breaks.
"That's the best team I've ever seen," said Junik. "That team was big -- which we have dealt with all year -- but we haven't seen a team that's faster than us. We didn't lose a game today. We ran into a buzzsaw. We hadn't seen anything like that."
St. Mary's junior Raeann Stilwell, who set a Federation Class B record with 38 points in Friday's 63-44 semifinal win over New York City's Goldstein Science, had 15 points and was named to the all-tournament team.
Junior Victoria Fontana had 11 points while senior Stephanie Simmeth had eight rebounds.
"We're just such a family," said senior captain Chelsea Kiebzak, a varsity player since her freshman year, Junik's first season. "We've been working for this for four years. To be the first, it's so special and I wouldn't have wanted it with anyone else but these girls."