The Team That Wasn't Going Anywhere.....
We heard it early in the year as the Torrington girls basketball team set sail on a journey that would be as improbable as it was remarkable.
On Sunday evening, the Raider girls said goodbye to four graduating seniors, Megan Calabrese, Nicole Kozlak, Kelli Balnis and Allie Reardon a their annual dinner held at the Cornucopia Banquet Facility.
It was a night for stories, tears and thanks but moreover it was a night to celebrate the accomplishments of a team that represented that word about as well as any in recent memory.
This group of upperclassmen, led by Kozlak and Calabrese, put together a season that started out with as many questions as there appeared to be obvious answers.
Head coach Mike Fritch, who tells us on a regular basis that he has no idea how this particular team is going to win anything.
Each player (Reardon was not on hand, the senior was visiting colleges) spoke of the same doubt when it came to the regular season.
Then they went out and did what most Fritch teams seem to do: they found a way to win.
It wasn't always pretty, Fritch jumped and twisted and shouted encouragement to a team that did something that made the rest of the battle easy.
There were no superstars on this team.
Junior Caroline Teti or Kozlak could put up 20 on some nights but the bulk of this winning was going to come from a team effort.
That effort paid off in a way noty seen in these parts in a good long time.
Think about what this team accomplished.
A regular season Naugatuck Valley League title that was built off two wins over rival Holy Cross, one blowout, one remarkable comeback.
Something was brewing after the second Crusader win.....This team was down 12 with very little time left but found the will to get over the top.
All of us who cover Raider sports have seen our share of tough losses, especially in the NVL Tournament where leads have vanished late leading to heartbreak and some other Athletic Director handing the trophy to their team.
Not this year though.
After beating the Crusaders for a remarkable third time in the semi-finals, the Raiders set their sites on Watertown and the ultimate prize.
In a final worthy of it's title, a back and forth game came down to the final 12 seconds and a play not designed on any clipboard.
Those in attendance will always see it play out....The ball goes into Teti who drives towards the basket only to find three Indian players converging on her.
Calabrese finds herself in the lane and the ball find the senior center who puts it up for the potential win.
After banging around a bit on the rim, the ball settles into the basket and the Raider faithful and the team erupts.
There are though, four seconds left to play and one more chance for the Brass Division Champions to create another heartache for the Raiders.
But not on this night, a desperation shot fall short and the team with low expectations raises the trophy to the sky.
Each year, the seniors get up and speak.
It's an honor most think is years off but it comes too fast.
Calabrese, Kozlak and Balnis each spoke with a poise that denied their youth.
Each spoke of the family unit they have had with the Raiders dating as far back as they can remember.
It takes family support, which these girls could fill a river with, dedicated coaches who put their heart and soul into this while remembering to stop and have some fun during a time that will be gone in an instant.
Fritch and company have built something pretty outstanding here in Torrington and the future looks bright with an experienced unit coming back next year to defend the new hardware added to the THS library.
Calabrese and Kozlak will be attending UCONN next year while Balnis is still in the deciding phase.
Rest assured, each will make their mark in the world as they did with this program over the past four years.
Looking for role models?
Look no further than the Cornucopia on Sunday night. Best and the brightest on display and yes, they can play and win........