Their crowning moment at Cicero-North Syracuse even included an American Dairy Association photo-op, pictures from which will be plastered on chocolate milk posters upstate. And it still seemed "unreal."

Jessica Caruana described the bus ride home as "a Sweet 16 party on wheels," but the breadth of what they had accomplished still hadn't sunk in.

The banner is helping, though. That large white hallmark adorning their school's main hallway serves daily testament: "Sachem East field hockey 2011 New York State champs."

After two weeks, it's becoming real -- the Flaming Arrows' 1-0 win over Mamaroneck in the state final did happen; the program does have its first state championship.

"People we don't know are congratulating us," goalie Jordan Miller said. "Some random girl came up to me in a Dunkin' Donuts."

To fully appreciate where Sachem East is requires understanding of where it was.

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The Flaming Arrows have been one of the better teams, but that only made their postseason shortcomings more painful. Last year's heartbreak was a 1-0 overtime loss to Ward Melville in the Suffolk Class A final.

Caruana, then a junior, said the feeling of dejection was indescribable, and Miller, who allowed the goal, said she "felt like I let the seniors down."

They watched forlornly as the Patriots went on to win a fourth straight Long Island championship.

Solace was Sachem East returning most of its roster, and that bitterness became motivation. They looked unstoppable at times en route to a 14-0 start this season, but among the players, the internal mantra was, "Beat Ward Melville!"

Sachem East did, twice in the regular season and again, 5-0, in the Suffolk final.

They celebrated their first county title that night, "but the next day, we realized counties is over with," midfielder Katie Trombetta said. "We weren't done yet."

OK, then 6-1 over Massapequa for the Long Island title and a trip north to the state tournament.

Satisfied yet? "It was cool," Trombetta said, "but the bottom line is, we were going up to take care of business."

It wasn't business as usual, though. It took Katie Doherty's tying goal late in regulation and a 3-0 round of penalty strokes to edge Greene, 2-1, in the state semifinals.

Samantha Alvino's 12 stops, Kayla McKeveny's midfield play and Caruana and Courtney Hallick's defensive saves kept the state final scoreless through two overtimes. Kelsey Lock came off the bench to score in strokes and Miller's diving save forced a sudden-victory round of strokes. There, Caruana had her banner moment.

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"For once," she said, "we weren't that team crying at the end."

Dare we look to the future . . . Sachem East graduates five starters, but most of its core remains and there's a wealth of depth. "The Trombetta dynasty has begun," a reader commented on Funny, but not far-fetched. The sophomore is already among the sport's elite and her eighth-grade sister, Cara, is a promising forward.

"It's reassuring knowing we have all this talent," said Miller, a junior, who becomes the full-time goalie. "This could be the start of something."

Perhaps Sachem East in the role of heartbreaker.

Back to the present, and that banner: "It puts a smile on my face," 12th-year coach Tina Moon said. "We finally got one; we're on the board. It's etched in forever."

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And pasteuri, umm . . . posterized.