SELINSGROVE – The Crestwood team gathered together again, well after their final game at the Selinsgrove Tournament, for a commemorative photo.
They had balloons spelling out "600" in gold. They had a poster. They all had smiles. Then the voice of one of the Comets rang out above the commotion:
"What about Mrs. G?"
Coach Elvetta Gemski walked over to the gathering and took her place with her team. With a 7-0 victory over Mifflin County on Saturday, she became the third high school field hockey coach in state history – and the sixth in the nation – to record 600 wins in a career.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to stop and reflect on all the support and all the wonderful people who have been a major part of my life." Gemski said. "I love coming back each year (which she's done each year since 1976) and putting a team together. I respect what these players do and all the work they put in. And we have some fun along the way."
Despite the rain, heavy at times … including during the on-field celebration after the milestone, Gemski clutched a bouquet of flowers given to her by her team. Ten minutes after the game, then 20, she still held the gift.
The milestone meant a lot to her. The gift from her team seemed to mean even more.
• FAMILY FIRST: When you look at a Crestwood roster, there's always a few last names that are familiar.
An older sister used to be a Comet perhaps. Or, after 37 seasons, a mom used to play for Gemski.
"It's very special … strong words … extremely special," Gemski said. "It makes you feel wonderful to be around that kind of energy and excitement (from the players). And the parents are a large, crucial part of the journey every year."
"I think it's tradition, it's the love of the game," assistant coach and former standout goalie Lissa Munley said. "For her, winning comes second, everything else comes first."
"Keeping all the girls, not cutting anyone," said assistant coach Patsy Moratori, another former Comet star. "That's different from everyone else. They all get a chance. I respect that.
"She does say hockey is your main focus during the season. But outside of the season, she wants the girls to play basketball or softball. That's another thing, too. We don't do much in the offseason."
• CHANGE IN THE AIR: The days of offsides calls, no self-starts, shots from outside the circle and limited substitutions are all in the past. Gemski remembers them, but they are all erased from her playbook.
"She's changed with the game," said Moratori, who played at Crestwood in the 1980s before starring at Connecticut. "Some coaches just want to do it the old school way. She sees what they're doing in college and elsewhere, and adapts."
"She's really changing with the times," said Munley, who played collegiately at Iowa. "She's learning to live in (the players') world. They dance before a game and that's OK. That's something my class didn't do."
• BY THE NUMBERS: Crestwood has won four state championships and 18 District 2 titles under Gemski.
The Comets have had 133 college players, with 39 being named team captains. Twenty Crestwood alums are currently playing collegiately and two more are head coaches.
Gemski has a dozen 20-win seasons to her credit (including the last three) and just two losing seasons in her 27 seasons. One was her program's first season in 1976, when the Comets were 5-6-2. The other came in 1979, meaning it has been 32 seasons since her last sub-.500 record.
• ADMIRED BY ALL: Gemski, a Hall of Famer, is still a legend at her alma mater.
"She's a great supporter of Temple," head coach Amanda Janney said last month. "Coach Gemski and her husband come down when they can. They love to talk Temple football and field hockey. Six hundred wins is a great accomplishment."
It wasn't that long ago that the Comets coach was earning tributes for half that many wins.
"People don't understand how difficult it is to start up and maintain a program at such a high level," Berwick football coach George Curry said of Gemski in 1997, when both coaches reached 300 wins. "Anyone who can do that is doing something truly outstanding."
• WHAT IT MEANS: The players knew this win was coming and their first goal for the season was to make it happen.
"We definitely want to win it for her," junior forward Marissa Surdy said Thursday after Crestwood beat Dallas. "We really want to get it for her Saturday. It would mean a lot to us, too."
For Gemski, she can look back at a program born as a club team in 1973 and is now a national powerhouse 600 wins later.
"It's just a matter of a love for a sport," Gemski said. "And I've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by so much support at the beginning of it all. So many embraced the program in the early stages and now it is just ongoing."
Second half: 1. CRE, Ashleigh Thomas (Hannah Ackers), 12:27.
Shots: CRE 10, SEL 1; Saves: CRE 1 (Dallas Kendra), SEL 9 (Madeline Troppe); Corners: CRE 7, SEL 6.
First half: 1. CRE, Ashleigh Thomas (Morgan Kile), 28:50; 2. CRE, Marissa Surdy, 18:41; 3. CRE, Surdy (Maury Cronauer), 15:15; 4. CRE, Hannah Ackers (Chandler Ackers), 9:19.
Second half: 5. CRE, Sarah Wodarczyk (H. Ackers), 27:04; 6. CRE, Kile, 9:51; 7. CRE, Kara Jarmiolowski (Wodarczyk), 4:50.
Shots: CRE 15, MIF 9; Saves: CRE 7 (Dallas Kendra), MIF 4 (Jordan Myers); Corners: CRE 6, MIF 7.