The Brown and Gold dynasty rolls (runs) on
The Brown and Gold dynasty rolls (runs) on
THOMASTON – Six years may not qualify as long enough to be called tradition-rich. After all, programs like Seymour softball, Ansonia football, Pomperaug field hockey and Nonnewaug track have been winning championships for decades.
Six titles in six years against a bevy of opponents with decidedly bigger school enrollment numbers however, certainly earns you the right (and a healthy dose of admiration) to be called a dynastic powerhouse.
That would be the Thomaston High girls cross country team. There are few programs in any sport in the Berkshire League over the last half dozen years than can match the mark of coach Mark Olsen’s graceful gazelles.
The number of titles is impressive, the power of the performances positively numbing. Let’s throw a few more numbers at you. How about 59 straight dual meet wins in the BL dating back to the 2006 season? Throw in two Class S titles (2010, `11) and a second place finish last season.
Hold it, not done yet. And it gets better. In 2010, the Bears became just the second Class S team in history to qualify for the New England Regionals with a sixth place finish in the State Open. A year later, the Bears became the third team to accomplish the feat with a fifth place finish in the Open.
At the New Englands, there was an 8th place finish in 2010 and a 13th place finish in 2011. Along the way there was an 8th place ranking in the Northeast in one poll. That’s powerful folks.
Interestingly enough, the Bears have done it with depth. Unusual considering the small size of the school (now under 300 students). Oh, there has been star power led by Sabrina Olsen (2010 Class S champion as a freshman and 2012 BL champion) and Cam Chaplen (2012 Class S champion).
But this has been power by pack attack. Senior Becky Perugini (12th in the Open a year ago and a three-time All-State and All-BL performer), sophomore Sammi Brier and former runner MacKenzie Blair have helped the Bears overwhelm the opposition with quality and fast-moving feet. Prior to that there were runners like Lizzie Eberhardt (now at Central Connecticut) that carried the torch.
The past as with all programs at this level, plays into the present.
“With the girls having a big win streak there is a lot of pride there,” said Olsen. ‘No one wants to lose. I think our tradition is that we expect to do well and come into the season expecting we can.”
“It’s like a responsibility,” said Perugini. “We try to make the other girls realize how much it means. “
The expectation has become the norm in Bear-land which helps neutralize what could be crushing weight of pressure under different circumstances. Yet, the Bears don’t sit around fretting about losing their awesome mantle.
Coach Olsen keeps team lose (he is one of the premier story-tellers around) and his pre-practice words of wisdom have become somewhat legendary. The team’s focus has been as much on building team as winning. The mantra being more that if we bond and we run we will win.
“We do a lot team stuff like pasta dinners and sleepovers,” said the Bears big bopper, Sabrina Olsen. “Basically, we just try to get as many people out as we can and work harder.”
Nobody is talking permanent here, or maybe they are. But the truth be told most small school’s success is cyclical, even a success story like this. But, the Bears went 1-2-4 in the BL Scrimmage held Wednesday at Black Rock State Park with Olsen leading the way followed by Perugini and sophomore Sammi Brier who finished fourth
While Nonnewaug may have actually won the meet, lending hope to opponents that the Bears depth may not be what it has been in the past, it is difficult to judge. The Bears run the scrimmage like a practice and don’t take too much stock in the final team results at this time of the year.
The always competitive Chiefs may challenge this season, but the throne still looks to belong to the Bears. Either way, Mark Olsen does not talk titles.
“I tell them I hope to have a good year,” says Olsen with one of those wry smiles that indicates he may be lowballing a bit here. “We expect to do well. The pressure part of it hasn’t always worked well for us. We don’t put pressure on them, they at times have put pressure on themselves.
(The coaches including Brian LaFontaine) don’t put pressure on the team. Was it terrible to finish second in Class S last year instead of first? We don’t think so.”
The Bears have had the perfect running storm in recent years. However, Chaplen has graduated, Olsen and Perugini leave after this year. Throw Blair in the mix from a few years back and the Bears not only had four good runners, they had four All-State caliber runners.
They have swarmed on the opposition, a cadre of runners tearing up courses en masse. Most schools don’t get this many quality runners at the same time ever. Period. With the graduation of Olsen and Perugini that awesome chapter closes on the Bears
The future starts with Brier, a feisty runner following in the footsteps. It has been a marvelous run, a marvelous dynasty. Year No. 7 appears to have the potential to be more of the impressive same. After that, well, we will see.
But, it is one heck of a legacy that has been built at the small school on Branch Road. The future will have the past to push it. And that is one awesome push.