In the final minute of their final high school game, the basketball lives of three longtime friends and teammates flashed before their eyes.
Long Island Lutheran seniors Taylor Byrne and Nani Redford were taken out of the state Federation Class AA final March 28 with their team comfortably ahead and 45.5 seconds showing on the clock. Boogie Brozoski, the third and most celebrated member of a group that has carved out a noteworthy legacy, was at the free-throw line. Of course she made both foul shots, and when the second one swished through the net, the buzzer signaled her removal from the game.
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It also signaled the start of a hug-fest on the bench among the players and coach, Rich Slater, who has mentored the trio since the fifth grade. "They are three very, very special kids. Hopefully, I taught them more than just basketball lessons," Slater said. "Coaching Boogie is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She's the best, and the other kids knew their roles."
That was evident throughout their magnificent high school careers. This season's Federation championship was the Lady Crusaders' third in a row and fourth in five years.
Even the unflappable Brozoski, a five-year starter who was named Federation tournament MVP after scoring 30 points in a semifinal victory over Ossining and 24 in the title game against Christ the King, was overwhelmed. "It's unbelievable. Three in a row? That's crazy," she said. "Four altogether? It's just amazing."
The Lady Crusaders had an amazing 2014-15 season, finishing 21-4 despite a rugged schedule. They finished on a 13-game winning streak after back-to-back losses in January. All five starters will play collegiately in Division I.
Brozoski, who averaged 19.4 points, will attend Michigan. She scored the 2,000th point of her career in the title game on her signature crossover, pull-up jumper. She finished with 2,020 points and, according to Slater, "more than 500 assists."
Many of those set up Byrne (9.4 ppg), who had 15 points and 14 rebounds in the title game and will attend Seton Hall. She's a high-energy forward who was emotional after the championship game.
"I was thinking that I'm blessed," Byrne said of, quite literally, embracing the moment near the end of the game. "To play with Nani and Boogie since the fifth grade and win three in a row is more than incredible. I gave everyone a big hug. It wasn't a sad memory."
Redford (7.3 ppg), a heady speedster who, in effect, gave the Lady Crusaders two point guards if Boogie was pressured, is going to Harvard. Sharpshooting Erin Storck (8.7 ppg) will attend Sacred Heart and inside force Evelyn Omemmah will attend Binghamton.
Junior Jenna Siletti played big minutes all season and totaled 20 points in the two Federation games. Freshman Gracie Stone also was a key contributor off the bench.
"Depth was a huge factor for us all year," Brozoski said. "This team is not just me."
That depth will be depleted next year, but the seniors believe they've left permanent footprints. "We know how to play," Byrne said. "We've lost games, but we've never lost our composure. Tight games or sloppy games, we know how to win. The legacy continues."