The glowing LED lights on the scoreboard spelled out the historic moment: Masters 65, Horace Mann 49.
It marked the first-ever NYSAIS title for the varsity girls’ basketball program, igniting a euphoric celebration that saw fans rush the court and mob every purple jersey in sight.
“It’s a little unbelievable, but at the same time it’s something that we deserve because of all the hard work we put in and how much we believed in each other, our coaches and our team as a whole,” captain Kendra Cooper-Smith ’19 said. “It feels really good to be part of that and to know that this program grew with all of us as part of it.”
Masters avenged a tough regular season loss to the Lions (24-1) in the process. Horace Mann entered the championship game on a 19-game winning streak.
“We were less confident, less skilled and didn’t know each other as well,” Cooper-Smith said of the previous matchup. “This time around we had a lot of confidence. We had to go in believing we were the team to beat and our seed number was nothing. The fact we were a No. 2 seed didn’t mean much because we knew that we could beat Horace Mann.”
Masters got off to an inauspicious start in the rematch, falling behind 9-2 early in the first quarter. The Panthers couldn’t buy a bucket and struggled to grab rebounds and produce second-chance opportunities.
And then suddenly a switch flicked.
Masters closed out the opening quarter on a furious 17-0 run and never looked back, leaning on their uptempo and frenetic style en route to the convincing victory.
“Once we started getting all the rebounds, we just ran Horace Mann out of the gym,” Tatarian said. “That’s what we do best. We can make it into a track meet. We keep running, running and keep throwing the ball up the court. All of us can finish, so that’s what makes us special.”
Tatarian totaled 11 of her 17 total points during the decisive stretch, refusing to let the team’s two seniors — Cooper-Smith and Emily Brieant — lose their last game.
“Kendra and Emily have been role models for me and encouraged me to play to the best of my ability,” Tatarian said. “That made it even more exciting that they were here for it.”
The Panthers extended their advantage to 40-23 at the half, leaning on a red-hot Cooper-Smith, who totaled all 11 of her points during the second quarter. Masters led 52-37 heading into the fourth quarter and never let Horace Mann get within shouting distance over the final eight minutes of regulation.
Gwenn Sabato ’20 played a starring role in the second half, pouring in 12 of her team-high 22 points. Noemia Massingue ’20 was similarly dominant over the last two quarters of action, recording 10 of her 12 total points.
Masters’ big traveling fanbase cheered on the team from the opening tip to the final buzzer, creating a true championship game atmosphere.
“That’s what really makes a good championship,” Cooper-Smith said. “A team is only as good as their crowd and I knew that our crowd was there for us. We really, really respected that and thanked them for that. That was awesome.”