Trinity Catholic girls basketball coach Mike Walsh will step on the court Saturday afternoon at the Mohegan Sun Arena to try to become the second known CIAC coach to lead the same school to both a boys and girls state championship. Dave Shea from Bacon Academy is the other.
On Sunday night, New Britain boys coach Kurt Reis will be competing in his fifth state final when the Hurricanes take on Waterford. But his is a completely unique situation.
Reis played in back-to-back state finals as a player at Northwest Catholic in 1996 and 1997, losing both games. After playing collegiately at Sacred Heart University, Reis was able to win a title while as an assistant coach at Enfield in 2004, when Enfield won Division IV. Four years later, he was the head coach at Hartford Public, which lost to Stratford in the 2008 Class M final.
All of those finals were played at Central Connecticut State University.
“There is nothing I can carry over because it will be the first time for me as well, but raising your game, understanding the need to do that. Guys have realized that with games we won, especially the last two (Glastonbury and Wilton).”
Reis still keeps in constant contact with John Mirabello, his high school coach at Northwest Catholic. He served as an assistant last year to Mirabello when he was selected to coach in the McDonald’s All-American game in Atlanta.
“They need to cherish the moment. Even as a 39 year old, I wouldn’t mind going back to high school for one day, for these moments.”
Long time coming
The last time Farmington appeared in a state final, the man who invented basketball — James Naismith — died, classic movies Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz hit theaters and World War II began.
The year was 1939. Farmington lost to a team named Ellsworth in the Class S championship game, two years after its first appearance against Staples, another loss. So the Indians will be searching for their first state championship when they face Amistad at the arena Sunday at 1 p.m.
“When we started to play well, competing with the best teams, we realized this is something we could do,” Farmington coach Duane Witter said. “People in the community began to come. We feel the responsibility to want to make Farmington proud.”
Farmington is one of four teams representing the Central Connecticut Conference this weekend at the finals. New Britain, East Catholic and Windsor are the others. Witter has gotten the team to the state semifinals a couple of times during his 21 seasons at the helm.
Witter said he normally attends the finals each year, watches the teams cut the nets down and celebrate. He relayed a story when he was an assistant coach at Farmington to Mark Noon, the former schoolboy star at both St. Paul and the University of Hartford.
“He had won back-to-back state titles at St. Paul (in 1974 and 1975),” Witter recalled. “He had gotten a watch (for winning). Every time we got in a huddle, I’d stare at that watch and I would say to myself ‘I want a chance to earn that watch. I want to be in that game.’”
Now Witter gets his chance on Sunday afternoon.
Ken Smith has had the opportunity to coach in five previous state finals, winning four of them, two at the Sun (2009, 2014).
Smith coaches in his eighth final Saturday night in the Division I game against East Catholic.
“I know these guys will (enjoy it) and definitely be ready,” Smith said. “We have no choice because we know the other team will be ready.”
The Warriors still remember what happened in last year’s Division I final, losing in regulation despite holding a 12-point lead with 2 minutes, 27 seconds left.
“You want to be playing on the last day, you want to be one of the last teams practicing, so it meant a lot.”
Smith said that in the notice he sent out to coaches participating in his annual preseason Hoops For Food scrimmages, he ended it by writing, “See You at the Sun.”
Prior to the weekend finals, the Sun will be hosting a coaches clinic at 7 p.m. at the arena Friday.
The college coaches scheduled to speak are Anthony Latina from Sacred Heart, Kevin Jaskiewicz from the Coast Guard Academy and Denise Bierly from Eastern Connecticut State. Also Peter Palermino, a state rules interpreter, will be holding a question and answer session on National Federation High School rules.
The clinic is $15 and will accept walk-ups.