THOMASTON – It is a lonely banner that sits on the wall in the Thomaston High gym. It hosts forlornly one date from a time long gone – 1962, and is easily missed, overlooked or ignored. Overwhelmed by time and the multitude of cross country, basketball, field hockey, baseball and softball testaments to state and BL titles it tells a story of both triumph and tough going.
In 1962 the THS boys soccer team won a championship in just the second season of the newly formed Berkshire League posting a perfect regular season. Those Bears would go on to the Class C state finals losing to Hale Ray, 3-0.
That was the first, last and only time Thomaston ever won a soccer title. Until this week. Roll that around the recesses of the mind. Sixty-one seasons, several generations come and gone and the soccer mountaintop an unreachable destination.
John F. Kennedy was President, the Cuban Missile Crisis was in full bloom and the Beatles were two years shy of arriving on our shores. Many of the members of that 1962 team and coaches are now playing their game on that great pitch in the sky. The parents of this year’s team weren’t born. The parents. It’s been a mighty long time and journey.
It’s that added ingredient of special that adds to the magic of what the Thomaston High girls team created this season, highlighted to date, by winning the Berkshire League championship with wins over Northwestern and Terryville, both by 3-1 margins this week.
A first ever BL girls title. Only the second soccer crown in school history. A championship with historical impact. Any title deserves a salute. This one has some extra oomph to it. The magnitude of it all is not lost on the players.
“This is incredible, to be the first ones to do it,” said the school’s all-time leading scorer senior Claire Saunders (73 goals). “Our class has had a big impact on the school in basketball and track and now this. It is incredible to have a lasting impact. People will see the banner and know our names. All the stuff that has been written about us will last. It is really, really cool.”
This was a program that had died. A noble desire that ran out of steam, players and competitive ability. Formed in 1997 in was gone by 2010, the final season outscored 124-4. But there were those who believed and after a couple of empty years, there was resuscitation, in the form of a co-op arrangement with Terryville.
In 2014 the Bears were back in business on their own. The first five years were a tough go (12-63-5 from 2014-2018). Then Jen Ewart, who had coached the Bears in 2007 and 2008, returned as head coach and the climb to the top became a march.
Ewart, a physical education, health teacher at THS, and a former Central Connecticut State University player brought her mix of winning mentality and calm, cool, collected demeanor back to the scene. Add in the steady contribution of assistant coach Ernie LeClair along with the aid of former Holy Cross head coach Mike Mentone and volunteer coach Greg Blasko and the Bears had the guidance in place to push the impressive talent pool to previously only dreamed about heights.
It started with a 6-9-1 mark in 2019 and a first ever state tournament appearance. The first winning record (8-4-1) followed in 2020. Then state quarterfinals in 2021 and state semifinals in 2022. Capped off to date by a Berkshire League championship this season 2023 with high hopes the final state tournament step can be taken.
“Every year we hit a milestone and make history,” Ewart said proudly. “This was expected.”
Ewart was anything but overconfident but she has watched this team get better every season. This is no Cinderella team or group that came out of nowhere. The possibility of something special was seen long before this season.
Greg Blasko, father of one of the Bears’ stalwarts Liv Blasko, coached 17 members of the current roster on both recreation and Middle School teams. The signs were there back then.
“This is a unique group. The junior and senior classes are full of athletes,” Blasko said. “In Middle School this was the first team to beat Har-Bur (Hawinton, Burlington) in 17 years on their own field. I expected this. They developed a passion that maybe other teams didn’t. A number of them played club soccer outside of Thomaston and we’ve always tried to keep them playing together.”
“We were really good in Middle School,” added one of the Bears top players, Liv Blasko. “We were all together. The chemistry has always been there. (A title) was not guaranteed but we strived for it.”
Even in victory opponents began to see what Thomaston was on the verge of becoming. Holy Cross defeated the then youthful Bears in the state quarterfinals in 2021 rather handedly, 5-1. But Crusaders coach Phil Mongelluzzo saw through the final score.
“You know people get down on the Berkshire League but Thomaston is young and I’m happy I will be in Class M next year,” Mongelluzzo said after the game. This team is very solid. Class S has not heard the last of Thomaston. I am impressed.
Mongelluzzo was talking state tournament but he knew what Thomaston was building.
The season has not been without challenges. Saunders tore her ACL a third of the way through last season and did not return until five games into this season. How do you deal with losing your top scorer?
“Me and Sofia (Coer) cried after realizing we were not going to have (Saunders) for a while,” Liz Balasko remembered. “But we had a really deep bench and had to realize we couldn’t give up and were able to to make up for what she contributed. “
There was also an early season tie against Housatonic, a team that has shadowed the Bears all season. While not a make-up call, it was a reminder.
“The light went on that we had to put our best foot forward,” Blasko said.
The Bears went on to overpower the Mountaineers, 5-1, the second time around. After a grueling tie with perennial power Nonnewaug, 1-1, in the first meeting between the teams, the Bears defeated the Chiefs, 1-0, for the first time ever in Woodbury.
Sparked by veteran team with eight starting seniors, the Bears have offered up a potent menu of offensive diversity and coupled with a huge element of rugged. Junior Sofia Coer has found a friend n the back of the net and has scored more than 20 goals while Saunders has also continued to round back into peak playing form and continued to find the back of the net. Blasko and Gwyn Romanzi add to the threats that making defending the Bears a chore.
The defense has given up just 11 goals all season, the combination of goalie Kara Sacco fronted by Amber Quick, Ava Harkness, Nicole Decker, Lili Van Ormer and Katie Guerin providing a formidable wall.
“This is an exclamation point for a great group of girls,” Saunders said. “It feels like fate. We felt we had it coming this year. It had to happen. It’s like a movie.”
For 61 years one lonely banner carried the mantle for Thomaston High soccer. No more. It now has some welcome company and room will be made for the 2023 Berkshire League champion girls team.
It’s been a long time coming. Take a bow Bears. You have been everything you could have and should have been, As Tina Turner sang so well – “Simply the Best. Better than all the rest. Better than anyone I ever knew.”