Mills hoping to go out on top
THOMASTON – On a late February night in 2017 then Lewis Mills girls basketball coach Joe Capitani got up off the bleachers at Wamogo after watching Thomaston defeat Housatonic for the Berkshire League Tournament title and turned to me.
“How many in a row is that for them?” he asked.
“Six,” I replied.
“I’d like to get just one,” he added with an equal measure of frustration and admiration.
Maybe this year. Just maybe this year the Spartans get that one. Unfortunately for Capitani he won’t be around, having left the program one year later (another story for a different time).
Under Capitani, the Spartans were the one team that constantly pushed the Golden Bears during their spectacular run from 2010-2017 that resulted in six straight BL title and tournament titles along with five straight Class S title game appearances and two championships.
The Spartans were always knocking on the door including a memorable 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Bears on their home court. And the only team to interrupt the Bears’ championship run? Lewis Mills in 2011.
Capitani’s sentiment is very much alive at Mills. Any title is nice but throw in the idea that this is the Spartans last go around before they leave a 35-year BL legacy in favor of the Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) starting the next school year and there is a little bit extra here, a tad more urgency.
“(Winning a title) would be special and it would be nice coming off soccer,” said Mills coach Al Ciarlo.
Mills, the dominant power in soccer during its duration in the BL won its first girls state title in November, a team coached by Jared Sheikh and assisted by Ciarlo.
Yeah, this would be a fitting swam song. But Ciarlo walks a cautious even nervous path after a 12-10 season. A veteran coach who spent years at Shepaug and worked with Capitani he sees potential pitfalls starting with a couple of other teams.
Gilbert returns four players and well Northwestern despite some losses is Northwestern.
“With Gilbert having four starters back I honestly think they are the favorite,” said Ciarlo.
Then there is his own team. He has probably the league’s best player in Samantha Chadwick but has to replace three starters. Yet, he sees the replacements as ready.
“A lot of these kids battle in practice and I knew they would be ready,” Ciarlo said. “It’s a nice supporting cast with Sammi (Chadwick).
The cast includes sophomore Abby Mills, sophomore Brianna Pelchar along with a couple of seniors, Nikki Ignatowski and senior Emily Hunt.
The Spartans were in Thomaston Thursday night after dusting Terryville 37-19 in their opener. There was some early season rawness particularly in the shooting department but there were signs they will be a handful as the season progresses.
Chadwick was Chadwick. She missed some shots early but didn’t take long warming up, torching the Bears with six three-pointers becoming well-acquainted with the bottom of the net en route to a 28-point performance.
But, the defense was equally impressive in the 40-22 victory. The Bears are younger than a new idea and found a quick-moving zone more than they were capable of handlng. Only six shots found bottom of the night.
No coach gets carried away two games into the season, there were still plenty of things to work on. But Ciarlo’s hot pink shirt had a glow to it.
This will be a big week for the Spartans, an early season litmus test. At Northwestern tonight. The Highlanders lost a bundle from their BL championship team of a year ago. But Fred Williams’ clubs have disappointed more opponents than the UConn women. Friday, Gilbert will be in Spartanland. By the end of the week, we’ll know who is chasing who.
In its final year in the BL Lewis Mills wouldn’t mind one or one more. Either way they would like to be looking down on the rest as they move on to new horizons.