Scattered across the gym floor at Onondaga Community College Saturday night, the celebration had already begun for the Liverpool girls basketball team. Players, coaches, parents and students mingled, laughed, hugged and engaged in a state of general bliss, for good reason.
After an 11-year wait, the Warriors were Section III champions again.
And it got that title in the most satisfying way possible, knocking off no. 1 seed Oswego 52-40 in the Class AA final with a blend of power, passion and poise the Buccaneers simply could not handle.
"It's an honor to bring this program back to the top," said senior guard Colleen Maloney.
"I'm so happy for these kids," said head coach Mike Olley. "They've played (basketball) together since third grade and worked so hard for this."
Since that last title in 1996, Liverpool has been engaged in a long quest to return to the top. Every year, it seemed, the Warriors would contend and go deep into the sectional playoffs, only to fall one or two steps short of the summit.
And it happened again in 2006, when Oswego knocked out Liverpool in the AA semifinals. Ever since then, said Olley, the team had been dead-set on getting back to this level -- and wanting badly to gain revenge on the Bucs.
In the meantime, the two sides got together on Dec. 22, with Oswego prevailing again 45-42. Olley said his players held up well, with the exception of a poor second quarter, something that didn't happen in the rematch.
"We played a full 32 minutes this time," said junior guard Tyler Ash.
A packed house at OCC watched Liverpool immediately take charge. Maloney, the team's leading scorer, was shut out in the first quarter, but Ash, Lauren Pluchino, Ashleigh Bowers, Sharon Dennis and Kristin Murrock made up for it, each of them scoring as the Warriors built a 14-6 lead by the end of the first quarter.