Girls high school basketball helped heat up the Northwest Corner last winter.
After five second places in a row, Torrington’s Red Raiders broke through for the NVL Tournament and league championship in a last-second blaze of glory.
Thomaston, Nonnewaug, Lewis Mills and Northwestern went into the Berkshire League Tournament at each other’s throats.
The Golden Bears tamed everyone but Northwestern in the regular season. The Highlanders beat them twice.
Mills and Nonnewaug turned around and got to Northwestern twice to complete the chain.
Thomaston hurtled through for the championship with a momentum that carried the Bears all the way to a Class S State Championship game against Capital Prep, the eventual winner.
Such recent success, within and beyond the Litchfield County borders, turns girls basketball heat up again this year.
The same Northwest Corner teams and more make strong pre-season arguments again.
Torrington gives up some height, leadership and outside shooting, but, led by point guard Caroline Teti, the Red Raiders bring back an even quicker group with size and experience on their side.
The NVL featured many young players last year; this year, Coach Mike Fritch sees more parity, with Watertown, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart high among equals, along with the Red Raiders.
In the Berkshire League, the prospects for another donnybrook are just as strong.
Nonnewaug lost one of the league’s toughest players in Katie Burke, but returns four starters who played together for years. The Chiefs, who have a six-foot center, junior Jess Fengler, lost just four regular-season games last year. They’ll be at least as good again.
Mills features one of the strongest centers in the league, Teagan Dunn. Together with junior guard Natalie Ruel, the Spartans, too, will more than hold their own again.
Housatonic, playing into the Class S second round a year ago, returns strong talent and leadership in seniors Heather Kearns and Katie Heacox.
Terryville, also a state tournament team last year, brings back inside and outside twins Olivia and Julia Pilarski.
All these teams are capable of strong runs.
And still, the Golden Bears have a two-year lease on the BL title.
On the day before their first big conflict, tonight’s 7 p.m. match at Lewis Mills, its hard to imagine them giving it up.
BL fans all knew guard Maggie Eberhardt because she was often the most visibly-determined of a tenacious group.
There’s plenty more of that attitude at Thomaston, led by Abby Hurlbert and Morgan Sanson.
“They come into every game with the idea that they’ll win,” said one BL coach after a Golden Bear triumph last year.
They’ll knock at the Spartan doorstep tonight with that attitude in their hands.
Pre-season Litchfield County Girls Basketball Players to Watch
Caroline Teti, Torrington
Paige Middleton, Torrington
Olivia Morrison, Torrington
Heather Kearns, Housatonic
Teagan Dunn, Lewis Mills
Natalie Ruel, Lewis Mills
Tara Shakley, Litchfield
Jess Fengler, Nonnewaug
Abby Hurlbert, Thomaston
Morgan Sanson, Thomaston