THOMASTON >> The Thomaston High School girls basketball team reached the pinnacle of high school basketball hopes last year — a state championship game at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
There, they ran into not just the best team in Class S, but maybe the best girls basketball team in the state, Capital Prep.
The Trailblazers had their way in an 84-55 rout, even after a gutsy comeback by the Golden Bears.
New CIAC rules pushed Capital Prep up to Class L this year.
Thomaston remains in Class S, the envy of every other team in the area as one of just two Northwest Corner high school teams to play at Mohegan Sun since its inception as the CIAC finals venue in 2009.
The other team was Tony Turina’s Torrington boys, featuring 6’10 Jordan Williams, currently working to return to the NBA.
The Golden Bears and every other basketball team in the state would be happy for a return to the Mohegan Sun.
Thomaston’s special take on the subject shines a light on how they got there and why they might just get back.
“We have a lot of special memories from last year and they’ll still be there always,” said Coach Bob McMahon. “We talked about it once, but this is a new year and that’s the nature of high school sports.”
Senior Abby Hurlbert was the Golden Bears’ breakout player in the championship game, in spite of playing opposite the biggest of the Trailblazers, Kiah Gillespie.
“She had all the hype. I didn’t want to be intimidated,” said Hurlbert.
Come close to intimidating the Golden Bears, whose own in-your-face style intimidates most opponents, you’ve motivated them all the more.
“I have the confidence that we played the best team in the state,” said sophomore Morgan Sanson, who started as a freshman.
“Especially as a freshman, I’ll have that for my whole high school career. Seeing how good they can be, we want to get to that level.”
“Hard work and team chemistry. That’s what it boils down to,” said Coach McMahon.
Still, anyone who’s seen the Bears play recently knows attitude plays a huge part as well.
“They come into every game with the idea that they’ll win,” complained/admired one competing Berkshire League coach last year.
“It’s unrealistic to think we’re going to win every time, but it’s the kids’ attitude that they will. And that’s what’s bailed us out a number of times,” said McMahon.
The kids were right last year all but three times, including the state final.
“It’s constant hard work every single day — wanting to get there,” said Hurlbert.
The attitude and work ethic pass down from year to year.
“I came to Thomaston games when I was little,” said Hurlbert. “Once you’ve seen that, you don’t want to lose.”
Three years ago, Coach McMahon, a fifth-grade language arts teacher, made those kind of origins official with the establishment of the Thomaston Trotters, a Harlem Globetrotters-like gang of the cutest pre-kindergarten-to-sixth grade halftime entertainers you’ve ever seen — all with dazzling dribbling skills.
“We started with 16; we have 45 Trotters this year,” said McMahon.
“The Trotters are here after our practices on Monday,” said Hurlbert. “They’re an important part of our fan base.”
One step follows the other.
“New kids know how intense we are in practice. They learn through practice. Last year, we had freshmen. That’s how the freshmen this year will be,” said Hurlbert.
The Bears have three freshmen who will contribute this year, just as Sanson, Gabrielle Hurlbert and Charlotte Eberhardt did last year.
It happens fast.
“I have a bigger role (in the leadership) this year because I had the experience,” said Sanson at Thursday’s practice. “It’s my turn to step up.”
Sanson was the embodiment of hard practices Thursday, with a bright red scratch the width of her upper lip and a bloodshot eye from a poke in a scrimmage the day before.
“No matter who it is, the best team or the worst team, we always play hard,” she said.
The Golden Bears bring back plenty of experience and even more size and athleticism with the additions, one of whom is still healing from a partial meniscus tear in soccer.
Glaring absences are graduated guards Maggie Eberhardt and Sydney Keith.
Both girls embodied the run-through-walls mentality that comes with a Thomaston uniform.
Eberhardt carried the “we’re-going-to-win flag” on kamikaze drives to the hoop and deadly strings of three-pointers.
“We haven’t said a word about Maggie’s absence. This is a new year,” said McMahon.
New year, same attitude, same focus.
“Our goal stays the same but it’s an unknown,” said McMahon. “That’s the beauty of high school sports.”
“We know our first game. That’s our first challenge,” said Hurlbert.
The opener is at Lewis Mills, the last Berkshire League champion before Thomaston’s two-year reign and one of this year’s league favorites, along with Thomaston, Nonnewaug, Housatonic and Northwestern.
The Golden Bears know the trip to Uncasville comes one big step at a time.