Northwestern riding high again
WINSTED – By Northwestern Regional standards it was a dry spell, Gobi desert type dry. Fourteen seasons without a Berkshire League title. A basketball lifetime for a program with the Highlanders’ pedigree.
For a program that had dominated through the late 1980s and most of the 1990s with a measure of excellence unmatched – eight straight titles from 1987-1994, a 141-game BL win streak and a state title – the dry spell equaled eternity without a title.
Not that the Highlanders weren’t relevant or even good through those years. They just weren’t the best.
So excuse them and legendary coach Fred Williams if there is a large measure of satisfaction in this season. Back on top for the first time since 2004 and glad to be there. Williams captured his 11th BL title and added the BL Tournament title Friday night with a solid 58-41 victory over Nonnewaug.
Not a man given to effusive praise, ask Williams about this season and title and he offers up this, “Awesome.” He knows that titles don’t come easy and even when wins seem to come easier than a weight gain at Christmas they were never taken for granted.
“The kids worked very hard to get to this spot,” he noted. “We had a lot of senior leadership with Addie Hester, Morgan Daley and Gina Weingart.”
Adding to the satisfaction is that this was a hardly a done deal at the beginning of the season. This was the season of parity with a good old mystery back in November as to who would emerge to end the amazing nearly decade-dominance of the Thomaston Golden Bear Express who had won six straight BL titles and tournaments and seven of the last eight and topped it off with five straight appearances in the Class S finals and two state titles.
That cycle finally ended for the Bears and there was no clear cut next in line. There was Gilbert and the Wexler sisters, Lewis Mills and Samantha Chadwick, Housatonic still had a piece of two left from last year’s co-titlists including Emily Geyslers, Wamogo had a new coach and familiar face in Kerri Stolle and Rose Kelly and when Thomaston knocked off Gilbert, Mills and Housy early, who knew.
But while the rest of the league took turns knocking off one another the Highlanders were the model of steady. It sure as heck wasn’t easy, this wasn’t a dominating run it was a grinding run marked with enough dexterity to avoid the pitfalls that the other teams couldn’t.
There were two scuffles with Lewis Mills that resulted in 35-32 and 42-36 victories. Housatonic pushed in a 42-37 final and it took some grit to hold off Wamogo, 39-34. In the BL Tournament it took some late execution to rally from an early 13-point deficit and emerge with a three-point win over Housatonic.
“Most coaches said at the beginning of the season that there was not a huge difference between the bottom and the top,” said Williams. “On any night anybody could beat anybody. Most said the team that won the league could have four or five losses. We have one loss but a lot of games could have gone either way.”
That one loss was to Nonnewaug, the one night the winning formula was absent. But unlike the others, that was the only night while posting a 22-1 record.
The bottom line is that one loss. Northwestern got it done. It is not a championship by star, it is a championship by committee led by the three seniors, Weingart, Daley and Hester. There are a bunch of players that average around 10 points a game and most importantly players that have put their time in.
“The biggest piece is the fact that we had more experience than everyone else,” said Williams. “We have four of our five starters back from last season.”
And the final result is appreciated.
“Morgan (Daley) is probably the most excited,” said Williams. “She said she has been on a lot of great teams but never won a championship. It is great for her and everyone.’
Williams too. He has 607 wins and a lot of titles in a Hall of Fame career. But it never gets old, especially when it’s been a while. What was that he said? Awesome.