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Decker and Harkness: Always winners, always together

THOMASTON – Somewhere around 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon Nicole Decker and Ava Harkness will walk off the court at Mohegan Sun after the Class S championship game for the last time, high school careers over. Whether in tears or with smiles or with a combination of both they will do so together as it should be.

Thomaston girls’ basketball team’s terrific twosome have spent large chunks of their lives to date together particularly on the basketball court. As Harkness said after the Bears semifinal win over East Catholic, “We’ve been together since we were itty-bitty.”

Different in styles, their value systems have been the same. Commitment to team, commitment to school and town, commitment to one another. They have been sisters in success marked by a relentless pursuit of championships.

They met somewhere around kindergarten and started playing basketball with the Thomaston Trotters, the feeder program for the amazing Thomaston High program which has won 11 of the last 15 Berkshire League titles, nine BL Tournament titles, three Class S state titles and appeared in two state championship games.

Decker was the kid you started hearing about in grammar school. A bit of a chip off dad Larry’s block, the BL’s leading scorer in 1986. She emerged into the director, the smooth operator, the one you wanted to have the ball in her hands. In tight spots, always providing basketball comfort for the weak of heart. Three-pointers, floaters on drives to the basket, she produced offense to the tune of almost 1,300 points. Steady, terrific, All-State, all-time.

Harkness defines rugged. As tough as any Bear that has ever donned the uniform. She eats more floor than dinner, on a first name basis with the floorboards. Banged, bumped and bruised that is part of the low-post game, she has always gotten back up.

How tough is Harkness? Her junior year in a game against Windsor Locks a player connected with two punches. She got up and played on. Playing softball with a torn labrum last spring, she was the Bears’ outfield throwing underhand.

 Her game has been underneath with an impressive use of footwork and moves. She runs the floor like a colt and has a great left hand.  And with Decker there is a sweet pick-and-roll.  

The two styles have meshed into this – “We will go as far as Nicole and Ava take us.” An often uttered thought around the program.

That has been awesomely far. Decker and Harkness are the epicenter of a dynasty – four BL titles, two BL Tournament titles, one state title, and two state game appearances.  They have done it together. The duo was also part of a rugged midfield in soccer that helped win a BL title, BL Tournament title and ended in a Class S finals appearance. Together.

But basketball is providing the best of so many shining moments.

“Basketball is my favorite thing to do so to do it with my favorite person is special,” Decker said. “And to do it, finish it at Mohegan Sun is as good as it can be.”

“(Mohegan Sun) is the ultimate goal. It is amazing, we dreamed of going this far,” Harkness said. “Being our senior years it is an incredible feeling. It is a good way to end our career together.

There have been individual accomplishments and they have done them together. All-Star teams and each going over the coveted 1,000-point mark. Decker passed the mark early in the season, Harkness in the East Catholic game. They will be on that timeless banner – together. 

On the court the connection goes beyond knowing one another’s game. There is a connection that speaks of friendship beyond basketball.

“We have built up a trust, Nicole knows when my head is in the game and I know when Nicole is in the game,” Harkness said. “Nicole sees what is on the floor.”

“Ava knows when I get into a game,” Decker said. “I will ask her what I can do. She always helps. Some sports people don’t care. Not Ava. I trust Ava wants to win and that she plays to win. “

Harkness is off to Eastern Connecticut State University in the fall. Decker is undecided but will play somewhere. It is a difficult parting.

“It’s going to be weird not seeing each other at practice,” Harkness said. “I’m going to look around and say, “Damn where’s Nicole.”

“I see Ava the same amount as my sister,” Decker said. “It will be hard.”

The twosome spend time together out of school. They even argue once in a while. “It never lasts more than a half an hour,” laughs Decker.

Nicole Decker and Ava Harkness have left an indelible imprint on Thomaston girls basketball. They will walk off the court one final time in victory or defeat, with smiles or tears or both. They will walk off the court on the last possible day of the season in the best possible place Mohegan Sun.

It is where they belong because it has been that good and they have been that good. But most importantly –

They will walk off together. As they should. It is the way they have always done it and they have done it so well.  Winners together. Always.

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