Put them in any order you want. It doesn’t really matter. Argue and debate, make your case, but more than anything when it comes to The Gilbert School’s Emily Arel, Northwestern Regional’s Maddie Topa and Thomaston High’s Nicole Decker – appreciate.
The power trio has proven to be the perfect storm in this era, encompassing the last four seasons in Berkshire League girls basketball. It goes beyond being three great players on the floor at the same time. They have scored points at historic levels, particularly Arel and Topa. They have decorated gym banners with championships, particularly Decker.
They have dominated games and headlines with classy brilliance. Rarely if ever has the Berkshire League seen a trio play at this level of terrific at the same time. There have always been great players knocking heads and trading memorable moments. Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Amy Matthews (Thomaston) and the BL’s all-time leading girls’ scorer and soon to be Hall of Famer Tracy Stolle (Wamogo) played at the same time (1990-1995)and put on some mind-boggling shows and won state titles. But this has been extra special.
Appreciate. That perfect storm takes a hit in the next month when the season ends as Decker moves on and takes her game to the college level. Arel and Topa will still be around to chase scoring records and titles for their senior season but there will be one less bit of magic that has made this a show of shows.
Arel has been the mercurial one, scoring at a dizzying pace with an aggressive style and energy overflow. Gilbert handed her the ball when she was a freshman and given the green light to shoot as much as she wants from anywhere she wants. She has accommodated.
She is as explosive player as the BL has ever offered up with the ability to turn around a game in seconds. Possessing tremendous range and a lightning quick release with a great step back move she can bombard the scoreboard like a blizzard in full fury. Drives to the hoop are a full locomotive with no breaks.
Arel has obliterated scoring marks at a record pace. With 30-point games more the norm for her than the exception in a league where many teams don’t average out of the 30s, only another Hall of Famer, Ellen Geraghty (1,806 points) stands in her way to becoming Gilbert’s all-time leading scorer. She scored her 1000th point as a sophomore and with more than 1,500 points she should catch Geraghty and then break Stolle’s mark of 1,924 points. Also on the horizon is Litchfield legend Dave Vigeant’s all-time BL mark of 2,149 points.
Topa may be the finest player in Northwestern History and the Highlanders’ history with the state’s winningest girls basketball coach Fred Williams at the helm has been a rich one. She broke the 1,000 point mark early this season and became the school’s all-time leading scorer Tuesday night with 34 points in a 70-50 win over SMSA, giving her 1,475points. She is also on pace to pass Stolle and the 2000-point mark. Vigeant also may be in reach.
Calm, cool and collected, there has been an impressive well-roundedness to the game, a shooter, ball handler and she dishes the ball. You want the ball in her hands with the game on the line as exhibited last year when she drilled a three-pointer against Hand High in the state tournament to send the game into overtime. She also drilled a couple of bombs against Thomaston two weeks ago from parts unknown, as part of a 25-point effort. She will also and does take the ball to the hoop with efficiency. Hard to find a weakness in her game where she is averaging 25 ppg.
Decker’s game is different from that of Arel and Topa. Scoring has never been her top priority maybe why as Gilbert coach Gerry Hicks observed, “She flies under the radar.” As a freshman she was given the keys to car and asked to do the driving. The Bears had the league’s best player in Emma Kahn and All-Stater Sydney Eggleton. As a sophomore there was Emma Sanson and Aurelia Barker.
Decker ran the vehicle like a pro. Two BL titles, a BL Tournament crown and a coveted 2022 state title. Decker was the director, she guided, she distributed and you never really felt comfortable unless the ball was in her hands.
Don’t be misled. Decker can score. She will end her career with more than 1,200 points. With a three-point stroke and floater on the way to the hoop, she has burned plenty. She averaged 16.5 points as a junior and there was a 35-point gem against Gilbert this season when the two teams were undefeated early in the year. Go back to her sophomore season when she tossed in 18 points with a standout performance against Bolton in the state semifinals.
There was not a better player on the floor in last season’s BL Tournament as Decker scored 18 of her 26 points in the fourth quarter and overtime in a win over Gilbert and then 20 points in the championship win over Northwestern.
This season she was asked to think more like a scorer and the average is 18 points a game. However some games she has to be told to shoot more. Her priority has never been to blister the record book. She has run her teams – right into championships. Decker has four BL titles, two BL Tournament titles and a state title. She likes rings and she has been the center piece of the collection.
It’s been a treat to witness all three stars. Whatever you do, appreciate what has been and what will be. Be glad you’ve been around for the show. This has been a show of shows, as good as it gets.
And think about this. Topa and Arel have known one another for eons and are friends. Topa practiced with Thomaston to help them prepare for the 2022 state title game and was given a piece of the championship net.
Not only have they been all-time great. They have been all-time great together.