Entering Monday night’s game against Masters School, it had been 80 days since the Horace Mann girls basketball team had last suffered a defeat. During that time, the Lions piled up 19 straight wins, vaulted up the rankings to the No. 2 spot in the state, and won the school’s first Ivy League title in 21 years.
All that was left to do now to finish off their magical season was to take down Masters in the championship game of the New York State Association of Independent Schools tournament and claim their first-ever state title.
But unfortunately for the Lions, there was to be no Hollywood ending to their season as Masters ended Horace Mann’s brilliant run with a convincing 65-49 victory in the title game held at Fieldston.
And although the Lions set a school record with 24 wins this season, their bench was reduced to hugs and tears after the final horn, forced to watch Masters hoist the state championship trophy they so desperately wanted as their own.
“It’s disappointing, but I think we can’t lose sight of the fact that we were 24-2 this season,” said junior guard Julia Robbins, who finished with nine points. “We had the most wins of any girls basketball team in our school’s history, and we won the Ivy League for the first time in 21 years. I tend to try and look on the bright side of things. This is very disappointing, but I don’t think it can take away from how great our season was.”
In the game’s early moments, it certainly looked as though Horace Mann was on its way to snaring that first state title as the Lions opened the game with a three-pointer and a layup by Julia Robbins. That was followed by a jumper from her sister Halley, and just 1:41 into the game, Horace Mann was up 7-0. But that would be the final highlight for the Lions as Masters answered with a 19-2 run to close out the first quarter to take a 19-9 advantage after one period.
It got no better for Horace Mann in the second quarter as the Panthers outscored the Lions 21-14 to build a commanding 40-23 lead at halftime, and the Lions’ season was on the ropes.
“I think we had some quick turnovers and some missed shots early in the game and we started playing rushed,” Julia Robbins said. “Then we had more missed shots and more turnovers, and we just got into a bad cycle. We eventually got out of it, but it was too late.”
But credit the Lions for not mailing it in. They opened up the second half on a 7-2 run with Ella Anthony scoring five points in the spurt to close within 42-30. But that would be as close as Horace Mann would get the rest of the way as clutch shooting by the Panthers kept the Lions at bay.
Losing to Masters was particularly difficult as it was the Panthers who also ended the Lions season last year.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” said Halley Robbins, who had nine points. “We had the energy and the excitement going into the game, and we were the No. 1 seed (in the tournament). We wanted to win so badly because we lost to Masters last year. That was the goal for the whole season.”
But unlike her sister, Julia, Halley Robbins wasn’t ready to celebrate the Lions’ stellar season. The loss to Masters was still too fresh.
“Right now it’s kind of hard to see the overall picture and see that we really did have a good year,” Halley Robbins said. “But I’m sure when we have more time to process this loss and think about the rest of our season, we’ll think back to how we played really well as a team, and that we had a great year.”
Long-time Horace Mann coach Ray Barile, the architect of the Lions’ greatest season, said his team got away from their usual game plan in the beginning and things then spiraled out of control.
“We started out doing what we were supposed to be doing, and then all of a sudden we stopped being who we are,” Barile said. “We started playing a lot of one-on-one basketball, and we stopped moving the ball.”
Like Halley Robbins, Barile was still feeling the sting of the loss too much to talk about the successes his program achieved this season.
“I’m totally disappointed because I feel it’s my responsibility as a coach to find ways to win,” Barile said. “I just didn’t get the job done today. My girls gave me everything, but I’m just disappointed for them.
“Eighty days. When you don’t lose for 80 days, it’s painful.”