Celebrating seven THS winners on and off the court.
TORRINGTON: They certainly didn’t look like a team that was going to win 22 games, a Division Title and a Naugatuck Valley League Tournament title, that first practice back in early December.
Yet here they were, celebrating a season worth remembering, a season that had its share of thrilling moments that certainly seemed to end far too soon in the State Tournament.
On Sunday night, the Torrington girls’ basketball team said goodbye to seven extraordinary seniors, a group made up of leaders, winners, one comedian all led by a coaching staff that stressed the importance of family throughout this remarkable season.
Paige Middleton, Mia Barbieri, Brittany Anderson, Shelby Howe, Taylor Howe, Abbi Fisher and Kendra Covington said so long to a program that was made better by their being part of it.
Heck, there are two NVL Tournament trophies (which were on hand) at the high school now, the only two ever won by a perennially winning program thanks to this group who played a smaller role in the first win over Watertown two years ago but had everything to do with this year’s rise to the top.
Nobody and I mean nobody, head coach Mike Fritch included, thought this team would go as far as they did. I was at that first practice when Fritch shook his head while wondering how on earth he was going to win without height and with a team that seemed offensively challenged at best.
Sure, they had second year player Brie Pergola and Middleton had grown into a leader and force during her junior year but 22 wins?
No way. Not back then but little by little, with the implementation of a new guard based offense taught by Pergolas’ father Dean, the team caught on over the next month.
They lost an overtime game to rival Holy Cross in their third game of the season but did not lose again until bowing out in the second round of the state tournament to Kennedy.
20 straight wins by a team that became a family inspired by a coaching staff that is all about the family unit.
On any given practice or game day, any number of young children belonging to either junior varsity coach Erika Pratt (the coaches daughter) or freshman coach Barbara Beebe could be seen happily playing behind the bench near the bleachers.
Players who may not have been higher up on the playing pecking order became part time baby sitters and loved it. The kids knew the players and looked up to each of them as the year wore on.
After running the rest of the table after the loss to the Crusaders, the Raiders trained their sites on the NVL tournament and after making the final off a three point win over Kennedy, played in an epic, classic, you name the positive description, it would apply showdown against Holy Cross in the final.
In a game that saw several hero’s step up, including Shelby Howe with some very clutch three point shots, it was a last second defensive stand led by three seniors, Middleton, Howe and Covington that prevented the Crusaders from getting an easy look and the second title in three years belonged to Torrington.
Covington credited Shelby Howe for “reminding us of every player we had to cover about a hundred times in a ten second span”, and it worked to perfection.
Now with seven speakers talking about their time with the program, the fear is that folks may be in for a very long night if the tears start falling and speaking becomes a nightmare but this group of seven pulled it off in a little over a half hour with some flair and comic relive as well.
Barbieri, who may have a future in standup, had the gathering in stitches with a straight faced, high energy and very funny salute to everything you love to hear about the lessons, friendships and memories all will take with them the rest of their life’s.
Brittany Anderson, who came close to not playing basketball all this year, read a heartfelt letter to her coaches and teammates (off her cell phone, now that’s using technology correctly) that spoke volumes about her maturity and understanding of just how special this time in their life’s truly is.
Covington was the unquestioned leader of this team and went up and beyond the call of duty as co-captain (with Middleton) of the team, a role she pulled off to perfection.
Taylor Howe spoke of being the “orchestrator” of the team from her point guard position.
Being at the wheel of a new offense was a tough challenge but Taylor Howe was more than up for the task.
Fisher, who was injured at the end of Fritchs’ 400th win late in the season, was a player who did whatever her coaches needed her to with enthusiasm and energy throughout.
During the dinner, I asked the head coach to give me a one word description of each senior and afterwards, I asked each player to sum up their coach with one word as well.
From the head coach.
Paige Middleton: Winner.
Mia Barbieri: Last (as in last out of practice, the door, etc.).
Brittany Anderson: Committed.
Shelby Howe: Feisty.
Taylor Howe: Determined.
Abbi Fisher: Caring.
Kendra Covington: Leader.
Now from the players back to their head coach.
Paige Middleton: Amazing.
Mia Barbieri: Fierce/Cougar.
Shelby Howe: Driven.
Taylor Howe: Enthusiastic.
Kendra Covington: Inspiring.
Abbie Fisher: Motivational.
Brittany Anderson: Can’t find the words.
We can forgive Anderson, six pretty good descriptions proceeded her try and sometimes, you just can’t find the words to sum up what a coach has meant to you and that’s okay.
The lessons taught on and off the court will resonate with these young ladies as they get set to go out and tackle the world.
If the world chooses to take them lightly, they do so at their own risk.
These are seven wonderful future movers and shakers who will trace back their successes in life to the time they put together a season to remember when nobody thought they would.