When the New Milford and Notre Dame-Fairfield boys basketball teams line up against one another in the SWC quarterfinals Friday, the head coaches of both sides will need no introduction.
Though relatively new at their current positions having completed their third year in charge, New Milford’s Al Tolomeo and ND’s Chris Watts are no strangers. The pair played with one another at St. Joseph a long time ago and have built a lifelong friendship through the sport.
Tolomeo and Watts were part of the dynastic Cadets teams of the 1980s that would ultimately win three straight Class LL titles from 1986-88. Tolomeo, who grew up in Stratford, was captain in 1985-87 as Watts — from Milford — was a sophomore. The pair would reunite later as coaches in Trumbull for their alma mater.
“We’re great friends,” Tolomeo said. “We’re looking at each other on the sidelines and it’s kind of funny. I’m running his stuff and he’s running my stuff. It’s going to be a war whenever you compete against Notre Dame.”
The Green Wave will play host as the No. 4 seed having completed a stellar 14-6 season by winning four of their last five games. New Milford features a balanced attack with multiple ball-handlers.
“One of the things is that we’ve had 5 different guys be our leading scorers on any given night,” Tolomeo said. “Our first two subs off the bench come in and we don’t miss a beat. It’s tough to defend us, we have a couple guys shooting the ball well. Hopefully when is one guy is off someone will pick him up.”
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Though New Milford has six seniors and a mostly upper-class rotation, varsity experience was limited before the season. Cohesion wasn’t, though, as the seniors had played with one another since elementary school. Junior John Fitsmaurice has joined seniors Anthony Troccio, Eric Habajan, Hunter Skelly and Josian Moralez in the rotation.
The last week of action completed a peculiar season that took several twists and turns. The lone consistent was Immaculate, which ran the table for the first time in program history. The Mustangs (17-3) were followed by six teams that finished just three games apart in the standings. When the dust settled, the Green Wave landed a home game.
“It would mean a lot for us (to win a championship) because we know it’s never been done in this town,” said senior forward Tyler Bowe. “I think it’s just sticking together. We feel like we can play with anyone, ultimately what’s going to get us across the line is our team chemistry.”
The Green Wave have been led by multiple players this season, but Bowe is at the heart of the resurgence. Bowe — who stands 6-foot-4 — can play all five positions in a pinch and leads New Milford in both points (16) and rebounds (nine) per game.
“The first day he walked into practice three years ago, he’s one of those guys who’s grown both physically and mentally,” Tolomeo said. “He’s put in more work than anyone else; he’s just a gym rat and his teammates loves him. He’s progressed such a long way.”
Bowe had to wait his time to be a impact player as last season’s squad was also senior-laden. He will likely collect postseason awards as one of the top threats in the conference. Several local Division III schools have shown interest in Bowe, who may opt to pursue his business school interests.
“Personally I remember last year I was a little frustrated with myself and how the season went,” Bowe said. “I set a goal that I can’t let that happen again, I had to work hard in the offseason.”
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