Golden Bears ponder what's next
They dominated our media outlets for four years – writing a story for all time replete with stirring comebacks, state championships, state championship games, titles and wins in basketball, field hockey and softball. From season to season, they never wavered winning state championships in whatever sport they played.
You never got a break from them on the fields and courts and in the headlines. It didn’t matter the ball, they owned the result. They were relentless in drive, single in purpose, champions in result. The brilliance demanded attention on a state-wide level. You had to notice and applaud and then applaud some more. At the very least for those with `Bear burnout’ and I get it, you had to respect.
You get the break (to an extent, more on that in a minute) now. What’s next for the Thomaston High girls championship machine (16 out of a possible 28 titles in the last four years) as we start the new school year? Well, right off the bat the Bears will relinquish their spot as the school-year long center of their sporting universe. We have never seen what the Bears have done and in a venue with changing participants it is literally impossible to continue the mind-blowing splendor they produced.
Graduation, which seemed to forget about the Bears for a long while, reared its head this June taking six seniors with it, including the `core four’ the central part of a story that won’t be repeated. So let’s start there.
Morgan Sanson, Gabrielle Hurlbert, Nicole Schaefer who played and started in all here sports and whose names never left the spotlight along with Julia Romaniello (softball, field hockey) are gone, their time finally up as Golden Bears.
Start with Sanson, the center piece of so much, because quite honestly I have never seen a high school career like hers. – A 16-time All-Star in three different sports, including six All-State selections in three different sports. Holder of individual records, author of more big Morgan moments than even the most fertile imagination could conjure up (check out Bears by the Numbers on our website) and more titles than Santa’s gift bag could contain.
Sanson will play softball at Eastern Connecticut, having spent the summer pitching for the Titans out of Terryville. Basketball interest came late, there was field hockey opportunities but softball it is.
Her running mate and cousin, Miss Hurlbert, also a multi-sport All-Star and All-Stater and author of one of the great moments in the era, stealing a pass at the end of the game to preserve the 2015 state title basketball win over Canton, will continue to bounce the ball and play for Western Connecticut. She played summer ball with her new teammates.
Schaefer and Romaniello have waved good-bye to their athletic careers, their contributions secure. Schaefer is attending the University of Hartford while Romaniello is at UConn. Both National Honor Society members will miss it all but maybe their opponents won’t miss them.
So what does that mean for the Bears? Understand now that Thomaston has only missed the state semifinals in all three sports a total of three times in the last four years. In the Berkshire League they are five-time defending basketball champions, two-time defending softball champions and defending field hockey champions. They lost just 18 games total in four years in three sports in the BL.
The Bears haven’t lost a BL basketball game since Jan. 30, 2015 (29 straight). They have only lost one BL game in all three sports since that date, reeling off 70-straight wins in all three sports until losing to Wamogo in softball this spring. The 2015-16 BL record over three sports was 50-1 with titles in all three.
Those days are virtually unmatchable. Field hockey practice started Thursday and there is a battle with numbers (15-18), although even in championship years squad-size was never big. There is some talent for the defending Class S champs with Jordan Boyle, Sam Laone, Alexa Milius and Alexa Sanson back to keep the ship steady. As coach Brooke Holway says, “we’ll be okay.”’
Exactly what `OK’ will translate into remains to be seen but the loss of core four certainly presents major challenges against perennial powers Lewis Mills, Nonnewaug and Shepaug and on a state level.
Basketball is the one sport where the past is still very much the present. With the return of Division I bound, 6-foot senior All-State center Casey Carangelo and mercurial guard with the sweet jump shot, Julia Quinn, the Bears will still be a formidable BL presence and probably go off as the league favorite. However, they dominated the league last year and that may not happen this time around.
There is the mega- challenge to replace four starters – Sanson, Hurlbert, Schaefer and underrated Charlotte Eberhardt. On a state level where the Bears have lived at Mohegan Sun for four straight years, Canton, who defeated the Bears a year ago in the title game returns a solid team, and Kolbe Cathedral who the Bears drilled in the semifinals will be back a year older and better. Mohegan might be a stretch this time around.
No Bears team will look more different than the softball nine. Only three starters (Milius, Laone and Katie Everett) return. While Milius is as good as any player in the league and Everett has some pitching experience, there will be inexperience all over the field. Wamogo will clearly be the favorite with everybody returning including now the league’s best pitcher Cyrena Zematis. The spring appears at this point to have the strong potential be painted Wamogo red and white.
Not a game has been played yet in the 2016-17 scholastic year. But in title-town, expectations in some areas have given way to hope. It has been almost impossible to conceive of what the Bears did the last four years. For it to continue at that level might demand a real investigation in to the much-asked question of recent times – “What the heck is in the water in Thomaston.” Unearthly might have to give way to good when it is all done.