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Mary Brechbiel was shooting jump shots when the other girls were still hoisting set shots. On the basketball court, she was always a step ahead of the opposition and made her Albertus Magnus teammates better with her advanced all-around skills, honed from playing against her four older brothers while growing up in Haverstraw. During her four-year varsity career for the Falcons, she developed into the dominant player on scholastic basketball courts in Westchester and Rockland counties. And she continued that streak of excellence during a Hall of Fame career at Mercy College.

During the early years of Title IX, which opened avenues of athletic opportunity previously unavailable to girls, Mary paved the way for local female basketball players to aspire to higher levels of play and the chance for college scholarships. Indeed, Mary earned the first athletic scholarship awarded to a female basketball player at Mercy.

Statistically, we will never know the full extent of Mary’s superiority because individual records were not kept during her first three seasons, when Albertus played in a Westchester County league comprising Catholic, parochial and private schools. Her coach during her sophomore and junior years, Meg Feerick, estimated Mary averaged more than 25 points a game in those two seasons, and she was removed from games early en route to blowout victories by Albertus. She led the Falcons to the league championship in the 1971-72 campaign.

Cementing Legacy as Impact Player in Rockland

By her senior year, Albertus had joined the Rockland County Public School Athletic League (RCPSAL) and Mary, the team captain, wasted little time establishing herself as the centerpiece of a squad that lost only one game the entire season. She set Rockland records by averaging 24.2 points per game and pouring in 44 points in one game, versus North Rockland. There’s little doubt Mary could have been a 1,000-point career scorer had records been maintained her first three years.

If there was an all-time Rockland girls’ basketball team, Mary would surely land a spot on the first team, according to many local sports observers. When The Journal-News invited readers in 1988 to submit names of the best athletes ever from each Rockland school, Mary received the most votes of any Albertus female athlete.

In the newspaper article on Albertus’s “Best-Ever” female athlete, tributes came flowing in for the versatile 5-foot-5 guard. “Mary was ahead of her time,” said Tom Collins, then the Albertus athletic director and boys’ basketball coach. “She came from a family of fine athletes” – brothers George, Peter, Frank and Danny – “and she followed right in their footsteps.”

“There really wasn’t anything she couldn’t do on the basketball court,” said Coach Feerick. “She was unstoppable.”

“If you were on the other team, you had to be in awe of her,” said former teammate Patti Walsh Lyver. Despite Mary’s ascendancy, “she was never out there to be the best player. She was a team player. She would pass off on shots you know she could’ve made.”

“The things I did, I guess people weren’t used to seeing in girls’ sports,” Mary said. “There was a group of seven or eight of us at Albertus that loved to play sports … we would just go out and have fun and play.”

Seamless Transition from Albertus to Mercy

The good times continued to roll for Mary at Mercy College, located in Dobbs Ferry in Westchester. She finished her four-year collegiate career as the school’s all-time leader in scoring, with 1,534 points, and steals, 488; as well as fourth in assists, 414, and ninth in rebounds, 686. During her senior year she played a major role in Mercy’s advancement to the championship game of the Eastern Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Northeast Regional tournament. She scored 29 points to pace the Flyers to an 89-60 decision over Brown, and scored her 1,500th point during Mercy’s 89-69 semifinal victory over Yale.

After graduating from Mercy in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Mary continued to work at St. Agatha’s Home for children in Nanuet, where she had worked throughout college. She went on to join the New York City Police Department in 1980, starting as a police officer in the Bronx, moving up the ranks to detective and detective sergeant and later assigned to the Manhattan Special Victims squad.

Mary retired in 2001 and became a substitute teacher in the North Rockland school district. She was the assistant girls’ varsity basketball coach at North Rockland High School from 2001 to 2008 and assistant varsity softball coach in 2009-2010.

These days Mary, who is 66, lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with her husband of 24 years, Bob Agnetti. She has three grown stepchildren and eight grandchildren.