One Special Season. Fowler, Bisson and the Spartans.
BURLINGTON: It was one of those runs you never want to see end because in these parts of the woods, they’ve never become common place the way they may in the bigger portions of the region.
In the 2010-2011 winter season of girls’ basketball, the Lewis Mills ladies made believers of us all by taking their game and season into the second week of March, sacred territory in the hoop world for certain.
The Spartans and their long-time head coach, Dennis Fowler, blasted through the Berkshire League regular season with a perfect 20-0 record, beating their opponents by an average of almost 30 points per game.
Only once did they win a game by less than double-digits (33-24 over Fred Williams and Northwestern) yet they were able to make a run that didn’t end until the semi-finals of Class M.
This was a team that featured about as talented and determined a group as Fowler had ever had and they forever hold a special place in his heart to this day.
“They are all just great people,” Fowler said. “They’re talented, gifted players with remarkable athletic ability.”
Fowler, one of those coaches we in the writing business miss every time we set foot on a Mills soccer field or a basketball court, is no longer coaching but is busy raising a young family that includes daughter Julia (4) and son Jack (2).
Some of the most heartwarming pictures we had as various nets were being cut down that year included shot of a proud papa with his baby girl in his arms.
Dennis Fowler is now and has always been about family, his brother Mark is the boys basketball coach at Terryville and a large contingency of family were always the first to find the coach after so many memorable games during that and many other seasons.
His current project, building his own house, will turn out pretty darn good because the man with the hammer and nails doesn’t hit his thumb very often, his building skills matching his own prowess on the hardwood where he knew a thing or two about playing in big games during his high school years.
His last project was putting the finishing touches on a team that was as gritty as it was talented.
This team was primed and ready for greatness, two of their starters, Nicole Bisson and Katherine Bayne had been part of the Mills soccer team (also coached by Fowler) that made it all the way to the Class M finals weeks earlier.
“We came into the season on a real high,” Bisson said. “It was our senior year and we wanted to make sure we finished well.”
Aside from Bisson and Bayne, Amanda Adamski, Kristen Van Gilst and Alicia Forella rounded out the starting five after the Spartans lost standout Tara Plochanczyk to a concussion.
Vicky Hernandez and Teagan Dunn came off the bench to add sparks when needed for Fowler.
The challenge from Northwestern aside, the Spartans ran hard and fast against the Berkshire League, took the BL Tournament and entered the States on a role.
A theme developed quickly in the States.
A measure of disrespect had started to float throughout the field the Spartans would face and Fowler used that motivation like a master craftsman.
Being seeded number one always helps and the Spartans owned the top spot that year and hence, home games until the semi-finals.
Burlington became THE place to be during the run and each game brought different hero’s and challenges.
Up first was New Fairfield who fell by 11, 40-29. Sometimes the first game is the hardest one to get out of the way and this was one of them.
Their second round opponent from helped the Spartans immeasurably by telling reporters in a preview that they thought the Berkshire League was ‘weak’.
Dial up the motivator!
“Coach told us that the other teams did not take us seriously,” Bisson said. “He had a way of really getting us motivated and ready.”
Bisson took the comment to heart and let her actions on the court do the talking with a barrage of three pointers that led to a 50-29 win over a Montville team that had wished they had not added fuel to the already burning fire.
The quarterfinals would bring a challenge and opportunity for the Spartans as highly ranked Kolbe Cathedral and Cherelle Moore.
Moore was a McDonald’s All-American nominee and was named the Connecticut Post MVP after her senior year. She currently plays for Jen Rizzotti and the Hartford Hawks, Moore was that kind of good.
Playing a team from Bridgeport that was known for being fast, physical and athletic presented the biggest challenge this group would face in their careers but they did not back down.
In one of the best high school basketball games ever played in the Mills gym, the underdog Spartans didn’t blink.
Bisson had the task of guarding Moore and while that was certainly daunting, the point guard did not disappoint.
“I remember in my AAU days when I played for Joe Mone (St Paul head coach) that he always used to tell us not to back down from anyone,” Bisson said. “I was a little scared at first but thought back at what he had taught us.”
In a track meet of a contest, the two teams went back and forth all night until Adamski made a bucket underneath to put her team up one late in the fourth.
Bisson would add her dagger with a critical three-pointer with time running down to put her team up by four and Mills would hang on for the remarkable 61-58 win and a date in the semi-finals.
“They just played fearless against Kolbe,” Fowler said. “We had the mentality that we would not play afraid and we didn’t.”
The defending state champions had come to Burlington looked to keep their run for a repeat alive but where derailed by a determined Spartan team that had the heart of a lion.
Four days later in Plainville, the dream would end in a 44-39 loss to Weaver, another tough city team.
While Mills owned the first half and led by double digits at the half, Fowler knew a flood of pressure was coming in the second half and it did.
“With how well we played in that first half, I still though we should have been up by 15 or 16,” Fowler said. “They pressured us hard in the second half and came back to win it.”
The run may have ended but the memories still flowed from both Fowler and Bisson as they recalled that magical year.
It has been a springboard for the young ladies who are all now wrapping up their senior years at various colleges or universities.
Bisson is going to Quinnipiac, majoring in Marketing and just finished an internship at Comcast.
Bayne is attending Marist, Adamski is at Drexel.
Forella attends UConn, Plochanczyk studies at Emerson while Van Gilst is at RPI.
Dunn will be leading the Spartans this winter as they get ready to start another season on the hardwood.
A remarkable year with an equality remarkable cast of players who not only excelled on the court but have continued to make their coach proud.
“Just great people who I was honored to have coached,” a proud Fowler beamed as he thought of his last but perhaps greatest team ever to grace the hardwood at Lewis Mills.
Thanks for the memories, it was a great ride for all of us…