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For Abby Hurlbert the future is now but the Golden Bear experience will never be very far away

POSTED August 17, 2014
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

Abby Hurbert will be forever associated with the Golden Bear she stands next to. Rick Wilson talks about the astounding career of the Thomaston three-sport star.

           “She is like the quarterback of the team. She could send the ball left or right and has a powerful drive. It seems like every play happens around her.  She is intimidating in a positive way.”

                                                                       Former Nonnewaug field hockey coach Kathy Brenner.

            “The kid had a great career. When she wants something she goes out and gets it. I won’t miss playing against her…..She’s a gamer.’

                                                                 Lewis Mills girls basketball coach Joe Capitani.

            “She is such a competitor. In a calm, cool way she can always bring the team together. She is an amazing athlete that is so well grounded that any coach would love to have. She deserves all that she gets and making All-State in three different sports is a huge accomplishment.”

                                                                  Northwestern Regional softball coach  Stacey Zematis                                                                                                                                                                                                              

            THOMASTON – Abby Hurlbert understands it. It didn’t matter whether it was the field or the court, fall, winter or spring. She has always had it figured out. Just check her fingers – two state championship rings, one for each hand (actually the softball ring hasn’t arrived yet, but it is coming to match the basketball testament to supremacy already there.)

            Check all the gaudy numbers, the point totals, the batting averages, the goals. And all the awards that followed the numbers. Yeah, she played the game at a level that few can approach. No one sport, every sport. Different balls, different venues, different weapons. Field hockey stick, bat and glove, hands and head. Not just diversity, diversified excellence.

            Numbers and awards? Here are a few for you to go along with the two state titles – a focal point on three BL basketball championship teams and three BL Tournament title squads. Pitcher on the 2013 BL softball tri-championship team, midfielder on the 2013 field hockey state semifinal team.

            Switch to the individual accolades - 1,136 points, eight times a BL All-Star, five times All-State in three, count them, three different sports. First-team All-State in EVERY sport her senior year.  Ray Marinko Award winner as the BL’s top athlete, Connecticut Game Time All-Area field hockey and basketball MVP and Female Athlete of the year, Waterbury Republican girls basketball Player of the Year.

            Time out, take the deep breath. It has been a very deep breath kind of career.

            A multi-scrapbook career, not just of a record of participation but one of stunning achievement. A career chronicle that turned on a town that will not forget as the leaves change, the seasons pass and the years go by. There is a long-lasting glow here that lights up the darkest night.

            So all is good or great. Time to move on to the next stage at Southern Connecticut State University next week with a smile and proud sense of accomplishment. But there is wistfulness, a bittersweet atmosphere that envelops Hurlbert as she sits at a table on a lazy summer afternoon after a long shift at Tony Turina’s Coffee Express in Thomaston where she works behind the counter.

            She never took it all for granted. Along the way she stopped and took in the journey. She appreciated it all. It was never all about the numbers and titles although that has been an inseparable ingredient in a special four-year trip.

            Hurlbert has hopes and dreams for the future but there is always a sense of the mysterious, the unknown when you move on and up. But if the future always carries that sense of uncertainty the same can’t be said for the not so distant past. There is no doubt of what she is leaving behind and she knows it has been special. She gets it, she has it all figured out.

            “I already miss it,” she says with a summer’s ending last day at the beach touch of melancholy. “I think about not being able to do high school sports again. I said to my sister (and teammate Gabrielle) you are lucky, you have two more years.”

            At times it is not easy being a Hurlbert in Thomaston. It is the state of the art athletic family in the Clocktown, the name recognized around the area that draws continual appreciative and exasperated mutterings from opposing coaches and fans.

            During the softball season as Thomaston fought for the Berkshire League title, one coach talking about the Bears success through basketball and softball muttered with grudging appreciation, “Yeah and it is one damn family.”

            Not quite, but you get the picture. Gabrielle and cousin Morgan Sanson (Lisa Hurlbert Sanson’s daughter) are writing their own stories and are around for two more seasons and there are more on the way.  The Hurlbert family is the athletic gift that keeps on giving in Thomaston.

            In high school the name carries expectations and why not. Abby’s dad, John, is considered by many to be the best high school player to ever come out of Thomaston and went on to play and set some records for the University of Hartford where he hit two foul shots to beat UConn during his senior year.

            Aunt Lisa led Thomaston to three BL softball titles in four seasons, a Class S final appearance and is in the Connecticut High School and Collegiate Softball Hall of Fame. She was All-State in two sports and grabbed more than 1,000 rebounds in her career.  Throw in the Ray Marinko Award given to the BL’s top scholar athlete.

            John and Lisa’s brother Wayne was an outstanding high school player in a number of sports and a top-notch modified softball player. Cousins Brooke (who is the Bears field hockey coach) and Drew were multi-sport high school stars. The list goes on. The Hurlbert name has always carried big-time game.

            It is a daunting legacy to live up to. Or could be. Or there is the way Abby looked at it.

            “It’s been more motivation,” she said. “You want to be that good. It gives you extra drive. It has been helpful.”

            Abby arrived on the high school scene carrying all the Hurlbert suitcases filled with excellence and a growing skill set along with some pretty good training. There were a lot softball summers playing around the country with the Connecticut Titans and a broad array of skills honed after being coached by dad, a relationship that included and includes a fair share of arguing and banging heads.

            There is a competitive chip on the Hurlbert shoulder, a nice ingredient to go with the skill set. Abby and John are two Hurlberts in a pod. In a story often told, when a senior at Thomaston, John was taking the ball out on the sideline and an opposing coach said something to him. Old dad had a couple of words for him and went down and dunked a play later.

            Fast forward 31 years to March, 2013 at Mohegan Sun and Thomaston’s Class S championship game again powerful Capital Prep.  The Bears were getting handled pretty easily and there was some chattering going on.

            Abby had had enough and gave Capital star Kiah Gillespie a pretty good shove under the basket. Not accidentally. Enough was enough. You know dad loved it.

            “It was kind of nice to give it back to her,” said Abby Hurlbert. “With one of those competitive smiles. “It kind of shows who I am.”

            Turina, who coached the Torrington boys to a pair of state title games and a state title after a career as one of the state’s top officials, calls the push one of Hurlbert’s signature moments in a career that has had a couple.

            “Abby became All-State with that push,” said Turina. “That push showed her toughness in a quality game, it showed she was not backing down. She was playing against a Division One Player and just said get away from me.  Abby is a winner and her reputation came forward here.”

            For those who saw the play in a different light, and there were a few. Turina offers this.

            “It was not a dirty play, it if was a technical would have been called. It was a tough play.” 

            Just for the record, Hurlbert finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds against the 6-foot-1 Gillespie who has just signed to play for Maryland.

            John Hurlbert’s impact as dad and coach cannot be underestimated and Abby spoke eloquently about it all upon receiving the Marinko honors.

            “We’ve butted heads when it comes to sports, we’re both competitive,” said Abby. “He’s always trying to help and I say I know. We’re so similar. He’s always giving me instructions on how to play. It’s been fun. He made those fouls shots (against UConn) and he always talks about it. I made my foul shots. I tell him I made my foul shots, three of them.”

            The foul shots. That’s all you need to say. The most famous foul shots in area history.  The legacy became legend here. Who does this? State championship game against St. Paul in front of several thousand fans at Mohegan Sun.

            Two tenths of a second left in overtime. One miss and your team and career is done. And she never blinked. The moment could have swallowed her up and nobody would have blamed her. She sucked up the moment.  They even made her think about it after the first two shots with a timeout. The moment didn’t steal her, she stole the moment. Three no-doubters.

            Who does that? Most don’t. Abby Hurlbert did.

            “My mindset was that we were going into another overtime and that we had three foul shots that needed to be made,” said with a still evident heroic twinkle in her eye.

            Listen to CPTV – “Abby Hurlbert is cold-blooded.” Read the Waterbury Republican – “Abby – Cadabra”.  A moment for all time.  Nothing more, nothing less. Thomaston would go on to win, 61-57 in double OT, Hurlbert would score 23 points to go with eight rebounds.

            Now it is time for Abby Hurlbert to make some new moments. She knows that. But she also knows how much fun the whole high school thing has been. On the court and the field. The teammates the titles, the town.

            Don’t underestimate the town part. More than once you saw Facebook postings from players about how much they love Thomaston. It is a love affair of Bogey and BaCall, Corey and Tapanga proportions. They rock the THS gym and fields. They escort their champions with fire trucks and ambulances and strut their pride in stores and at events. They love their teams because the teams have given them something to love. It is a truly special small town experience.

            Hurlbert has always understood all of that. She appreciates how special it all has been. It has stolen her heart. That makes her special. Beyound the immensity of talent, Abby Hurlbert has always had it figured out. She gets it and it is very special to behold.

             This time is bittersweet and that’s okay. Because if it wasn’t you would think Abby Hurlbert had missed something. But, she hasn’t missed anything. Never did now, did she.

            Off she goes now, hopes high for the future, the past always connected to her heart

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