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Left: Clockwise from top left: Amber Hoffman, Stefanie Collins, Allison Bloom, Stephanie Cross, Cara Mundt, Christie Emerson and Cristen Hill. Right: Clockwise from top left: Tiffani VanZile, Jill Pevo, Val Richardson, Jenny Thomason, Anna Feliciano, student manager Kristine Gardner, and Tracy Cooper. Lower right: a battery-operated musical monkey (provided by the Pevos) that sat with the team during the postseason.
It was 20 years ago ...
... When the Odessa-Montour girls basketball team, led by Stefanie Collins, won a state Class D championship
ODESSA, March 7, 2021 -- This month -- March 17, to be exact -- marks the 20th anniversary of the New York State Class D girls basketball championship won by an Odessa-Montour team led by Stefanie Collins.
Twenty years -- two decades since the names on that team were easily recited by any fan: Collins, Jill Pevo, Stephanie Cross, Cristen Hill, Christie Emerson, Cara Mundt, Allison Bloom, Tiffani Van Zile, Val Richardson, Jenny Thomason, Anna Feliciano, Amber Hoffman and Tracy Cooper. The coach was Frank Gavich, assisted by son Greg. Kristine Gardner, a 6th grade student, served as team manager.
It was a season that saw the Lady Indians go 23-4, losing only to the 20-2 Class C Edison Spartans (twice); to eventual Class C State Champion Lansing; and in the final game -- in the Federation playoff that followed the New York State Public High School Athletic Association tournament in Glens Falls -- to Kellenberg, a large, powerful Catholic school.
Collins was the key sparkplug of the Indians' competitive engine. She averaged 30 points a game, including a remarkable 47 in the state semifinal against Argyle, bringing O-M back from an early 9-point deficit to win 66-56.
She was ably aided all season by the 5-11 inside presence of center Jill Pevo, who averaged 15.3 points and 13.2 rebounds per game. Both Collins and Pevo were strong at the foul line, Collins sinking 81% of her 157 free throws, and Pevo converting 73% of her 162 attempts.
The most points from the other players came from Hill, who averaged 4.8 points and 4 rebounds per game. Mundt averaged 3.8, sinking 13 three-pointers along the way. And the rest were adept on defense. The team averaged 62.2 points per game while holding its opponents to an average of 44.4.
O-M won its first 11 games, setting up a rivalry clash with unbeaten Edison at Odessa, in a gym that for the first time in memory was so full that the doors had to be closed and people turned away. It was a red-hot rivalry that had burned bright the year before, when O-M and Edison had split two games during the regular season before Odessa topped the Spartans in a playoff for the division crown.
This time, Edison -- a very deep and talented team -- topped the Indians 73-59. After that, O-M defeated its next five opponents before falling in back-to-back games to Edison, 63-53, and to Lansing, 74-63.
Then came the Section IV, Class D playoffs, where O-M defeated Afton 67-29, Stamford 69-36, and Gilbertsville-Mt. Upton 63-33. That was followed by a Central Regional Playoff victory over Watertown IHC, 61-52, the 66-56 win over Argyle in the state semifinal, and the Class D state championship game against Sherman, which O-M won 51-36. In the Federation tournament the next week, Odessa rallied from eight points down with three minutes to play to defeat a Manhattan school called Dwight, 52-49, before falling the next day to that strong Kellenberg squad 64-40. Collins scored 26 of Odessa's points against Kellenberg.
The team was greeted by a large crowd of fans upon its return to Odessa the day after the NYSPHSAA title-game victory over Sherman -- and was ultimately the subject of a book detailing the season. It was called “The Glory Girls,” and was full of interviews, photos and game-by-game statistics. It was compiled by Charlie Haeffner and Richard Bauman and printed in both softcover and hardcover formats. The following quotations were taken from that book for use here.
Coach Gavich, in an interview in the weeks after the title was secured, described the semifinal game against Argyle and that early 9-point deficit: “You began to wonder at that point. (Argyle) was undefeated, and all of a sudden they’ve got us nine down. I thought maybe the end of the road was here. ... They had a couple thousand people there. But we had a much better crowd than we expected. ... We had a great crowd, but Argyle had a phenomenal crowd.
“So we’re down nine, and came down and missed, and if they got the possession and went up 11, I don’t know what would have happened. But Jill got a big offensive rebound and scored. ... She stopped the bleeding on our part. And then Stefanie ...”
Greg Gavich, also part of the interview, interjected: “She just took over.”
Collins scored and scored and scored some more. Greg Gavich said that with about five minutes left in the game, he turned to his father and said: “She’s got forty points. Oh, my God!”
Of course, it takes a team to win a game, and one example was when Pevo was pulled for a while after being called for her fourth foul.
“Christie Emerson did a real nice job coming in for Jill in that situation and helping us with some key rebounds and defense and so on,” said Frank Gavich. “She really did a nice job."
Added Greg: “The looks on all of our kids’ faces of determination and intensity that night, I’d never seen before. Incredible. It was a notch above what I’d ever seen on all of them.”
When the game was won, said Frank, “We were a little concerned there was too much celebration, because there was still one more to go. Everybody talked about the Argyle game,” how good it was. “But if we had won the Argyle game but lost the Sherman game, nobody would have even cared about the Argyle game. You know, we still had to win the state final.”
The Indians went on to defeat Sherman 51-36 in the final, with Collins contributing 34 points. “Everybody (on O-M) scored in the first quarter,” said Greg Gavich, “right out of the gate. It was like a 9-0 run. It was nine-zip, and they never got within five the rest of the way.”
A key was Stephanie Cross, who the senior Gavich decided should defend against Sherman's 6-1 standout, "and Cross did an excellent job. She did a great job of denying her the ball" despite "giving away three or four inches on the girl."
Once the game was over and the title was in hand, he said, "it was total exuberance, of course, and I just can't describe it."
Team member Anna Feliciano kept a journal during the season, and her entry on March 16 -- the day of the semifinal win over Argyle -- notes: "Stef, as usual, outdid herself, scoring 47 points. Jill added 16 points and 15 rebounds. Stephanie Cross, Cristen Hill and Cara Mundt were solid defensively, shutting down Argyle's outside shooting. Stephy Cross was awarded the sportsmanship honor for the game. We've waited so long and it's finally here. The state championship game. Tomorrow at 5 p.m."
In her entry of March 17, she writes in part about the title game: "We battled our way to an early lead and were up at halftime. The only trouble was, we also worked our way into foul trouble. At the half, Stefanie and Cristen each had three and Jill had two. We came out of the locker room focused and never looked back. The feeling was sweet; even the people who didn't play could feel it. This feeling doesn't come along every day, so how do you put it into words? The state champions from Odessa-Montour: that sounds good, really good."
Her entry on March 18, 2001 -- the day after the title was won -- was particularly descriptive. It told how the players boarded a bus at 9 a.m. for the trip home and were so tired that they all slept along the way.
After 1 p.m., "we were greeted in Millport by fire engines, and they escorted us into town. At the old Jamesway (along Rt. 14 in Montour Falls) we were welcomed home by news crews, our parents, and friends. We paraded through town and waved to the people on the streets. It was such an awesome feeling, but we definitely noticed the lack of people.
Where was everybody? Well, we found out that answer as we turned into the school parking lot (in Odessa). The entire town (or just about) was gathered in front of the school with banners and signs. We were so overwhelmed, many of us were crying. There has been nothing like it in Odessa for a very long time. What a feeling! The whole community was there wishing us well and telling us what a good job we did.
"I've never seen anything like it. I probably never will again. I don't think there was a dry eye after Mr. Gavich finished his speech, everyone was so touched. All I could think about was that we actually did something to make Odessa proud again.
"The whole weekend, Mr. Gavich kept asking us if it was worth it all, and now I see that it was. It was worth the sweat. It was worth the tears. It was worth all the disappointment ... the jeering crowds, and all the hard work. It has been said that what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. I firmly believe that now. We are living proof that dreams really do come true."
The team ultimately was a featured part of the annual firemen's carnival in Montour Falls on May 30, 2001, riding in five vintage convertibles provided for the occasion. They were then honored at a dinner meeting of the Odessa Lions Club on June 7, and at a community celebration held at the Glen Theater on June 10. That latter gathering was described as "an emotional event" featuring award presentations; letters of praise from the Schuyler County Legislature, Watkins Glen Mayor Bob Lee, and State Senator Randy Kuhl; "the unveiling of award cases destined for the Odessa school," and remarks from the players and coaches.
And then, eventually, the celebrations drew to a close and the achievement of The Glory Girls became part of both the past and the lore of the Odessa-Montour campus. And as with the natural evolution of things, the specifics of those championship days started to fade.
But they happened. The details, once vivid, remain with us today in a more general sense -- a sense of individual achievements, of teamwork, and of something that was rare ... and in the remembering sweet.
(The photos presented here are part of the book "The Glory Girls." At top in the text are Jill Pevo, left, and Stefanie Collins with a title banner. Below that is a page showing Collins and team manager Kristine "Sparky" Gardner, who became a standout on an Odessa team six years later that reached the state semifinals, and who is now coach of the O-M boys varsity basketball team. At bottom is a shot of the softcover version of the book.)