Thomaston: Can this season be last season?
THOMASTON – It was the day after Thanksgiving and everything looked in place at the Thomaston High girls basketball practice.
Coach Bob McMahon was walking around growling, cajoling, directing. Assistant coach Tony Geraci was instructing as always. Assistant Bill Ryan was there like he has always been. The players sported faces that were so familiar.
There was the queen of the ball, author more than 1,100 career points and the biggest foul shots in area history, Abby Hurlbert. Morgan Sanson was lefthanding her way around the court and Gabrielle Hurlbert was always in motion. Nicole Schaefer was lofting a couple of 3-pointers and getting down on defense. Charlotte Eberhardt was battling for rebounds.
Everything looked in place. Kind of like time standing still. But then you realized something was out of place, a reminder that this is a different time. Abby Hurlbert was there but not there. She is gone, off to Southern Connecticut and playing for the Owls. This was a stop by while on a brief Thanksgiving break.
And within the whole scenario may lay one of the biggest challenges the Golden Bears face as the season opens up Friday night, hosting Gilbert, two days late after being snowed out against Northwestern Regional Wednesday night.
How do the Bears handle last season? It is moving in on nine months (Dec. 22 if you keep track of that stuff) since Thomaston put the finishing touches on the greatest season the program has experienced.
A fourth Berkshire League title in five years, sharing the crown with Lewis Mills and Nonnewaug. Then, bragging rights by taking both teams out to win their third straight BL Tournament title, the championship coming at the hands of Mills a team that had beaten them twice during the regular season.
That was just the warmup. A wonderful run through the state tournament highlighted by a marvelous semifinal comeback against Sacred Heart in an overstuffed, overheated Kennedy High gymnasium where they trailed by nine at half and won by 11.
And then that day forever etched in the Golden Bear soul in the championship game. Down by 10 in the third quarter against St. Paul, they came back. Sanson tied it with under 20 seconds on a putback.
St. Paul missed fouls shots and put Hurlbert in a position to do something about it. She did. Oh my did she. You know the story. Fouled with .2 seconds in overtime, she dusted off the pressure like it was a piece of lint and wrote herself into lore, canning all three shots to tie the game.
The Bears ran away in the second overtime and danced the dance of champions, a euphoric scene frozen in time. It was Hurlbert and Hurlbert, Sanson and Schaefer, Casey Carangelo, Brittany Thomas and Sarah Guay, the whole gang with their `Cave’ and their town somewhere over the rainbow.
How do you react to that? You can say it is a new year, but it isn’t always that easy. The glow is still bright and warm. Time to turn the page, how easy is it? Young players are resilient, but with four returning starters, how easy is it to let go? What role does the experience play?
McMahon admits he doesn’t know, where the Bears are or will be when it comes to the influence of last season
“It’s hard to tell, we won’t know until they throw the ball up,” said McMahon. “Have we already accomplished something or are we coming out with renewed goals. I do know we have worked hard in the off-season. A lot of the girls went to AAU camp and played in the fall league.”
Of course not letting go goes both ways. Is it not letting go of the memory of the highest of highs. Or was the high so good they won’t let it go and feed off of it.
The core of this group (Hurlbert, Schaefer and Sanson) found it all so good that along with a few others went on to win the Class S softball title three months later. There is a mental part here that refuses to accept losing. It is a team born of comebacks and never-say-die belief. A can’t kill the Bear thing.
“This year is different,” said Sanson. “Last year is in the back of our minds and it will motivate us. We know what we are capable of doing and what we expect out of each other. We know last year is last year and we’re moving on.”
“We all know how we got there and we have to work just as hard this year,” said Gabrielle Hurlbert. “It is a new team and we have to find a new way of doing everything.”
The Bears know last year isn’t this year. Hurlbert is a wise sage.
There are four returning starters and they will look for the 6-foot Carangelo who stunned both Sacred Heart and St. Paul with powerful performances in the state tournament to become a consistent force to go with the talents of Sanson, Hurlbert and Schaefer
But a season ago there was always Abby. The leader, the shooter, the calming influence, the comforting presence always. The one who always seemed to have the answer no matter the question.
The Bears will have to reconfigure. McMahon talks about contributions from everybody. Maybe more balance. High hopes for sophomore Julia Quinn and freshman Alexa Milius. There is no Abby, more than ever now it has to be everybody.
McMahon likes this team. He likes his size and athleticism. He knows the disdain for losing. It is a team with a past and a pedigree.
But this year is not last year. Mills and Nonnewaug would prefer not share the title pie and they are little tired of the Bears. McMahon and company seem to know that.
But as the four-month odyssey begins you wonder about the impact of last season on the Bears. Will they draw off of its wonder and continue on their championship journey. Will they be able to shake last year the first time somebody reminds them that this is a new season.
It kind of makes for an interesting watch. What do the Bears have in store for us this season. Don’t bet against them, but….and isn’t there always a but at this time of the season when everybody has dreams and everybody is equal.
Time to play ball and see what happens.