Ray Barile had an inkling he lucked into something special four years ago. That’s when Ella Anthony and the Robbins twins — Halley and Julia — walked into Horace Mann’s gym and changed a program.
At the time it had been almost two decades since the Lions had last claimed an Ivy League title, and had never sniffed a state championship. But Anthony and those Robbins girls had grand designs on changing all that, and the last two seasons have been historically good ones for Horace Mann.
Last season came a 24-2 record, a first Ivy League championship in 21 seasons, and a berth in the state championship game. The Lions lost that title game to Masters, but they also announced Horace Mann was now a program to be reckoned with going forward.
This season has seen similar success. Last week the Lions put the final touches on their regular season with a 60-30 victory over Poly Prep and a 60-18 rout of Riverdale. It closed out a perfect 12-0 Ivy League campaign and gave the Lions a second consecutive Ivy League crown.
At 22-1 now, the Lions have now won 46 games in the past two seasons with just three losses.
Even Barile could not have envisioned this kind of ride four years ago.
“When you have good players, it’s very easy to coach,” Barile said. “I’ve been blessed. Four years ago they showed up as freshmen and became four-year starters. And for four years, they were the best players on the court.”
It was joked about that perhaps the trio will have their jerseys retired by the school — Anthony’s No. 4, Julia Robbins’ 23 and Halley Robbins’ 10. Maybe a bronze bust of the trio in the gym lobby where all the hardware the three of them helped secure currently resides. A little recognition for a group that has accomplished so much for their school.
“This just feels awesome,” Julia Robbins said of winning that second straight Ivy title. “I think it’s indicative of how together we’re able to play as a team, and the fact that we know our skills and we know how good each of the other players on the court are, and that we’re able to trust each other. That’s why we’ve been able to have the success that we have had.”
Halley Robbins was having difficulty absorbing all that the Lions have accomplished recently despite being right smack in the middle of all of it.
“It feels very strange,” Halley Robbins said. “When we came in as freshmen the team was nothing like it is now. But the level of intensity has increased over our years here as well as our focus every day when we come to practice. So it’s really special to see it play out on the floor.”
There are other numbers affiliated with this Lions team, all thanks to Anthony and the Robbins sisters. There is the number one, as in Horace Mann being named the No. 1 team in New York State in Class B last week. There is also this number: 3,398. That’s the total number of points the trio has presently, with more to come this week and next in the New York State Association of Independent Schools tournament.
Anthony, the daughter of former Knicks star Greg Anthony, has 1,687 of those points, placing her third on the school’s all-time list.
But right now that No. 1 is all these Lions care about.
“It definitely puts more pressure on us, but we always play with pressure and that really pushes us to keep playing hard,” Anthony said. “Pressure is a good thing. If you want to be a winner, you have to take everything that comes with it.”
What also came out of this magical run is a bond among the three that will last long after their Horace Mann days are done.
“Oh my gosh, it’s been a blast,” Anthony said. “I definitely didn’t expect this my freshman year. I didn’t think I’d be able to call these girls my sisters. I knew we’d be close, but not this close. It’s honestly been incredible.
“The fact that you’re winning with some of your best friends and one of the best coaches ever, it just makes everything so much sweeter.”
There’s still some business to take care of this season, still one big box to check before calling it a career — winning the NYSAIS tournament and delivering that elusive state title. It all begins Feb. 20 for these gifted Lions.
After that, then start the talk about those retired jerseys and bronze busts.
“I would not be opposed to that,” Julia Robbins said, laughing. “Not at all.”