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2012 Year in Review...February. Assistants play strong role in Red Raiders success. By Rick Wilson

POSTED December 20, 2012
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                              Assistants play strong role in Red Raiders' success

            TORRINGTON – Mike Fritch will be the first one to tell you that good players, in some cases very good players, have been the basis for the success of the Torrington High girls basketball program.

            But Fritch will also tell you another essential ingredient is what he sees when turns around to look at the bench and locks on the faces of Erica Pratt, Joe Lefkowski, Barbara Beebe and once in a great while Christine Gamari.

            The assistant coaches, the brain trust, the trusted lieutenants. Call them what you will, there is no doubt that they play a vital part in what the Red Raiders do and what the Red Raiders are.

            “It is always nice to bounce things off of them and it’s always nice to have another set of eyes,” said Fritch. “They are invested in what we do. Joe and Christine as volunteers are invaluable in terms of help and Erika and Barbara do a great job with the JV and freshmen programs.” 

            Mrs. Pratt, now in her seventh season on the sidelines, knows the coach by another name – dad. She was a 1,000 point scorer during her days playing for dad at THS and has become a first-rate coach and confidant. She also knows the head coach better than anyone else.

            “Erika has no problem saying, ‘Hey dad……’,” said Fritch. She knows the game, she knows the kids and she understands the girls. She is more willing to speak up.”

            Pratt is right next to dad, willing to give advice and at times be the sounding board for the wrath of Kahn when the mercurial Fritch has an occasional frustration-fueled eruption.  She is also a calming influence.

            “He asks for feedback and doesn’t just say we’re doing this my way,” said Pratt. “He will say, `You and Joe (Lefkowski) take care of the offense. It is definitely not a dictatorship. After games we’ll talk. I’m not afraid to give him my opinion. I’ve spent a lot of time around the court with him since I was little.”

            And about the eruptions?

            “Sometimes I notice he gets excited, it’s his nature,” said Pratt. “I’m sitting back and we’ll talk or I’ll whisper something to him. “

            The explosions are usually just a way to let off steam and don’t last long. Only until the next good play and boom it is over.

            The biggest physical presence on the bench is Lefkowski, Fritch and Torrington’s version of George Blaney.  He has been down the road and around the corner from CYO, VAL , PAL and Ram Welding programs in Torrington to head coach at Litchfield for three years. There is also a stint as the freshman girls coach at Torrington.

            After his stint at Litchfield he came back home. It was an easy decision aided in large part by Fritch’s willingness to let him play a meaningful part in the program.

            “Mike lets me do some things with the offense, he likes the defensive end,” said Lefkowski. “He’s made it easy. He has given me opportunity for input. I told me I just didn’t want to come to practice and stand around. ‘

            Lefkowski admits it is an adjustment after being the top guy in a program.

            “It’s tough to step back after being a head coach. You have to step back and keep your mouth shut,” said Lefkowski. “Actually I’m the No. 5 coach.”

            Don’t believe it. Leftkowski may be an unpaid volunteer; his value has nothing to do with titles or money.

            “Joe with his experience is a great help,” said Fritch. “Our assistant coaches have input. I do the scheduling of practice but let everyone run part of it. At halftime of the games, everyone has a say. The bottom line is that it comes down to me but I take advice from everyone.”

            Fritch feels the Raiders performance against Holy Cross the second time around in which they led much of the game only to lose by five points, 67-62, was a result a coordinated coaching effort that helped the players put in an outstanding performance. The Raiders had lost 65-46 in the first meeting between the two clubs.

            “That was our best game, it all came together in the game plan,” said Fritch. “We mapped out a defensive and offensive plan we thought we would work and beat them for three quarters.”

Beebe does a fine job with the freshmen and Gamari, another former THS 1,000 point scorer, who often cannot make the games comes down to practice frequently to help out.

When you look at the Torrington success over the years you cannot deny the players –they have been outstanding from Sarah Royals to Ali Otis to Tina Shanahan to Erika Fritch to Claudia Rizzi and so many more. The list is long and impressive.

Fritch has certainly played a vital role. But often the assistants, those well-dressed non-players on the bench get overlooked. Players and coaches will tell you how important they are and in Torrington’s case they have been essential.

Torrington’s most underrated players may be the ones without the uniforms on that sit next to Fritch.

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