THOMASTON –It was one of those stunning, scintillating moments in time that had you wondering if the overflow of elation would ever be repeated. Could it ever be repeated? A stunning 45-second standing ovation overwhelmed by the chant ‘un-defeated’ from a packed house of near 1,000 fans in the Thomaston High gym that made the hair on your arms stand straight up and hammered your ear drums.
It was Friday night, Feb. 18, 2010 and the Thomaston High girls basketball team had just overpowered Terryville to record the program’s first ever undefeated regular season and clinch just the second Berkshire League title, the first one in 1961 unknown at the time.
The leading authors of the night and the season were a group of five seniors who might have formed the most talented Bears’ team ever from top to bottom – Sierra and Brittany Brandt, Morgan Doyle, Steph Keith and Lizzie Erberhardt.
You grabbed on to the moment and held it close because you wondered if it would ever come around again. Little did anyone – Thomaston fans, BL opponents, anybody watching – know that night, that season, was just the start of a stunning, still-going story.
Time has moved swiftly, that first group is in its early 30s now. Sciarra and Brittany Brandt have welcomed their first children within the last year. Yet, here we are 15 years later and you shake your head with the same appreciative amazement that was evident on the winter night long ago.
The Golden Bears won the Berkshire League title outright Friday night, gritting its way past Gilbert, 59-42. Any title is special and each one has its own identity. But in Thomaston every title has become part of the larger story of unfathomable brilliance.
This one was the fourth in a row and 11th in 15 years. The numbers demand your attention and love the Bears or play against them or are more than tired of them, they keep coming. They won’t go away. It is a program relentless in championship pursuit, relentless in championship results.
Nobody has won more BL titles than Thomaston, the Bears and Northwestern having won 12 each. No BL team as made more state title game appearances (9) and won more state titles (4) than Thomaston. The Bears have won 10 BL Tournament titles and had dynasties of six in a row (2012-2017) and this run of four in a row. A win over Wamogo Tuesday would mark the fifth time the Bears have gone undefeated in the BL.
The numbers would be brilliant at any school on any level but another set of numbers add more magic to the story. Public school, not a school of choice. Second smallest public school in the state. As former coach Bob McMahon used to say, “All my kids live three and a half miles from the front door.” The number of girls has never been more than 120.
This year Thomaston has 88 girls in the entire high school. This graduating class is 41 students in total. No mistake, 88 and 41. You keep hearing about this because it isn’t supposed to happen. Not with any school, let alone one this small.
You get a good group, win maybe for a couple of years then slide back down. It is supposed to be cyclical. For the most part the Bears have avoided that norm over the last 15 years.
Even Northwestern coach Fred Williams, a man that knows something about winning as Connecticut’s all-time winningest coach with 718 victories has spoken with admiration about the Bears.
“I don’t know how they keep doing it,” Williams said during last year’s season. “This has been going on a long time. It’s more than just a short run.”
Former Gilbert coach Gerry Hicks, who retired at the end of last season, calls Thomaston’s journey amazing.
“Thomaston is the (New York) Yankees of the Berkshire League,” Hicks said. “They have had a great feeder system that has the kids prepared and they always seem to jell and play as a team. I can’t think of any selfishness that I’ve ever seen. They also play faster than anybody else which has caused problems and they buy into defense which can create havoc. The girls are in tune with what the coaches ask.”
The names of the past resonate – Hurlberts, Sansons, Carangelo, Quinn, Eberhardts, Kahn, and so many others. This year’s squad takes its spot on the championship roster. All guided by championship coaches Bob McMahon and Brian Mozelak.
Nicole Decker, the calm, cool and collected leader who simply is one of the best in the long journey. Rugged Ava Harkness, arguably the toughest player in this decade and a half win fest. Lilly VanOrmer, a defensive stalwart, scrappy Rejhana Aliu and rapidly improving Addison Patchell have added solid support.
The past cannot and does not escape the present. Listen to Decker and Harkness, the team’s two stalwarts.
“(Thomaston basketball) is family,” Decker said. “It’s been expected that we continue the dynasty. I’ve been looking at that my whole career. It’s been so much fun.”
“It’s about hard work,” Harkness said. “In this program everyone lives up to the expectations.”
These Bears like so many before them answered every call against challengers Northwestern, Gilbert and Nonnewaug. And like so many before them they continue to fill up the title banner in the THS gym.
Friday night Thomaston cut down the nets one more time. For the seniors the fourth straight year. No instructions were needed, they know the routine. The Bears continue to dance the dance of champions. Ask Aliu’s grandfather who was rocking and rollng near center court.
Fifteen years ago there was one moment in time that shook the walls of the THS gym. The moment will always stand on its own. But part of the magic of that night is that it was the beginning of many nights, of a dazzling journey that could have never been predicted let alone understood.
Here are the Bears again with one more title. It is who they are, who they have become. Many hope for championships, some play for championships, Thomaston wins championships.
They are the Bears. Fifteen years ago they won a title. They haven’t stopping winning since then. It is in the DNA. Small school, small numbers, big-time champions. Again. Train roll on.