The challenge is still to beat the Bears
THOMASTON – You sense a different vibe when you walk into the gym these days. The familiar faces and personalities that seemingly were here forever and wrote a legendary sports story are gone now. All-everything Morgan Sanson is at Eastern Connecticut and her tougher than shoe leather cousin Gabrielle Hurlbert is dribbling at Western Connecticut. Underrated Nicole Schaefer is at the University of Hartford and always steady Charlotte Eberhardt is shooting at St. Joseph’s University in West Hartford. Speedy sub Sam Brostek is at Post College.
It is different now and you wonder maybe even expect that they took the brilliance and the dominance that resulted in a 94-12 record, two Class S state titles, four state championship game appearances and four Berkshire League and BL Tournament titles over the last four seasons with them.
Understandable. But be careful. There is still some growl in the Bear. A lot of growl. How much remains to be seen but if you are thinking the story is complete. Well, be careful.
“Obviously we were spoiled having anchor pieces back for two or three years,” said Thomaston coach Bob McMahon. “But (losing players to graduation) is the nature of high school sports. We have some kids that have been waiting in the wings and we have kids that want to play and work at basketball. We’re looking to see what they do with their new opportunity.”
Oh, and they kind of like winning games since they barely know the other side. And it is an ingrained trait.
“It goes back to 2008 when we lost in triple overtime to Cromwell in the quarterfinals,” said McMahon. “Since then the attitude has been they want to win games. How much that body of work is worth, you can’t measure it.”
Indeed, the Bears have won five straight BL and BL Tournament titles and six in the last seven years. The DNA is there. And while the look is different, there are a couple of talented reminders that the past isn’t quite the past and the faces are not all on the new side.
On many nights the Bears will have the two best players on the floor – 6-foot All-State center senior Casey Carangelo and mercurial senior guard Julia Quinn. Their talent is no secret but how to stop them falls close to that category.
Carangelo, on her way to Division I St. Francis in New York next fall, had an outstanding summer by all accounts and is the whole package. She runs the floor, is difficult to handle under the hoop and to complicate matters for the opponents is a legitimate three-point threat.
Carangelo is primed to go over the 1,000-point mark early in the season and will leave THS as one of its top three all-time scorers barring unforeseen circumstances. Teams that design defenses to stop Carangelo have another major concern – Quinn.
The dynamic guard has explosive speed and arguably the best jump shot in the BL, both boys and girls, with 3-point range. With Carangelo it is a potentially deadly inside, outside combination.
“Julia is one of the best guards in the state and with Casey they are terrific, competitive and talented,” said McMahon. “They have good chemistry.”
The Bears will offer up a couple of more shooters that should make opponents take notice. Senior Cam Capaldo and junior Alexa Milius are two of those players that have range and are finally getting their chance.
“Cam is another senior who scored a ton of JV points and who has been chomping at the bit for her chance,” said McMahon. “Alexa Milius was caught in the numbers game the last two years. From an athletic standpoint she is one of the best all-around in the league.
That fifth spot? Look for 5-foot-10 Alexa Sanson. Yep, another one (note – there is another coming after her). Sanson should give the Bears another body underneath and some needed board strength.
Juniors MacKenzie Doyle and Kaitlin Root also figure prominently in the Bears’ plan.
The Bears will be different. Defensively, what was lost is irreplaceable so adjustments will have to be made. The strength of will and heart that is gone was off the charts.
But there is hunger here and talent. To expect the Bears to be as dominant as a year ago when they won their games by 20-30 points on average is unrealistic. Expect challenges from opponents particularly Lewis Mills who returns four starters from a year ago. However they aren’t going away either. As Wamogo coach Kevin Crowley said, it is Thomaston until somebody beats them.
McMahon has hopes but knows the score in a year where some may think the Bears are gettable.
“We are gettable every year, that’s the beauty of it,” said McMahon. “We’ve lost some games unexpectedly and won some games like that. Our mission never changes – to win the next game.”
Maybe not the same team, but still the team to beat.