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Preparation helped Canton girls win first-ever state championship – The Collinsville Press
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Preparation helped Canton girls win first-ever state championship

Canton's Belle Magna and Gabrielle Hurlbert (11) battle for a loose ball in Saturday's Class S championship game. The play was called a jump ball.

Canton’s Belle Magna and Thomaston’s Morgan Sanson (14) battle for a loose ball in Saturday’s Class S championship game. The play was called a jump ball.

UNCASVILLE, Conn., March 19 – On the floor of the Mohegan Sun Arena, the Canton High girls basketball team made history by beating Thomaston, 64-51, to win their first-ever state championship.

The seeds of success for this long-awaited championship were first planted a year ago in the hours following Canton’s two-point loss to these same Bears, who put out the same starting lineup in Saturday’s title tilt as they did in 2015.

Canton’s third-year head coach Brian Medeiros knew any championship run would have to go through Thomaston. So Medieros

  • strengthened Canton’s regular season schedule,
  • challenged his team in the week leading up to the championship game and
  • had his team stay overnight in Norwich to eliminate early morning bus rides to the Mohegan Sun Arena.

In 2015, Canton won its first 15 games of the season and went 18-2 on their way to their first state finals berth since 1999. This year, Medeiros included non-league games with Avon, which played in the Class LL tournament, Notre Dame-Fairfield, which lost to Cromwell in the Class M championship game, and New Fairfield, which was eliminated in the Class L semifinals.

Canton lost all three games. “They were great teaching tools for us,” Medeiros said. “They helped us get here.” The challenge of playing Enfield and their outstanding 6-foot sophomore center Mary Baskerville and their outstanding guards helped, too.

Canton's Abbe Skinner and Thomaston's Gabrielle Hurlbert (11) battle for a loose ball in Saturday's Class S championship game.

Canton’s Abbe Skinner and Thomaston’s Gabrielle Hurlbert (11) battle for a loose ball in Saturday’s Class S championship game.

In the days before the Class S championship game, Medeiros had some players that he coaches in the off-season with the Connecticut Starters AAU basketball team practice with the Warriors. The idea was to simulate the pressure on the guards and ballhandlers that Thomaston could deploy.

South Windsor’s Alex Gosselin, Glastonbury’s Cameron Hendricks and Farmington’s Cheray Saunders, Mary Schoenherr and Sam Roy used their speed and quickness to pressure the Warriors in practice.

“That helped tremendously,” Canton senior guard Maggie Treacy said. “They’re a stacked team and they’re going to play in college. If we could deal with (them), we would deal with anything. That definitely helped us prepare for (Saturday).”

Canton turned over the ball over 14 times but only four times in the second half.

The Warriors also arrived at the arena fresh on Saturday morning. A year ago, Canton left the high school at 6:20 in the morning to be on time for the 10 a.m. tipoff that is usually assigned to one of the two Class S contests. “I don’t think anyone enjoyed that 6:20 a.m. departure time,” Medeiros joked afterwards.

So Canton took a page from Thomaston’s playbook. With assistance from parents and the Canton Booster Club, the team stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in Norwich on Friday night, only 15 minutes away from the arena.

“This time, everyone was so comfortable and so relaxed,” Medeiros said. “We had practice (Friday), our sendoff (from the school). We had a team dinner, got to the hotel, relaxed and had some feel-good food. We went to bed, got up this morning and had a team breakfast.” After a short bus ride, the team was at the arena Saturday morning with plenty of time to prepare.

Canton’s maturity throughout the season also helped. For most of the season, the team played a zone defense. But in the final weeks of the season, Medeiros and his staff adjusted and had the girls playing more man-to-man defense. Like good students, the Warriors continued to grow and learn, building upon their lessons of December and January.

“I think it was the team’s maturity,” Medeiros said. “We started to understand the (defensive) concepts better and I think it started to click as the year went on. For us to beat good teams, we have to hold them in the 40s. That was our emphasis going into the Bolton game (in the Class S semifinals)

“We knew for us to win (against Thomaston), we had to take away the three-point (shot) and take away their inside play,” Medeiros said. “The only way you can really do that is to get out there and play man.”

Easier said than done, it also requires the athletes to get the mission accomplished.

“When we play defense, it’s not like one person moving offensively,” Treacy said. “It is the whole team collectively. We all have to play our part. It was a team win today.”

There were plenty of smiles on the Canton bench in the final seconds of Saturday's Class S championship game.

There were plenty of smiles on the Canton bench in the final seconds of Saturday’s Class S championship game.

Thomaston shot just 32 percent from the floor in the game (18-of-55) and sank just four of 15 from three-point range. The Warriors had eight steals, two blocks and forced 15 Thomaston turnovers.

Added junior Emily Briggs, “We have really quick players who can guard and be a pain in the neck for the opposition team.”

Below is video from our friends at the Canton Compass.

NOTES: The championship was just the third basketball state championship in school history. The boys won the Class S title in 1978 and the Class C championship in 1928. … The most recent state title won by a girls team at Canton was the Class S crown won by the softball team in 2009 with a win over Coginchaug. … Girls basketball players from Canton have been competing in scholastic competition since December 1920. Known as Collinsville High at that time, the Warriors went 10-2 in 1921-22 and laid claim to a state championship according to a photo in the Hartford Courant in April 1922. The CIAC didn’t begin sponsoring a girls basketball tournament until 1972-73. … In the earliest known game between the two schools, Collinsville played Thomaston in the 1930-31 season with the Warriors prevailing, 31-13. … In Canton’s tournament opener against Wolcott Tech, the Warriors prevailed 55-20 — the fewest points allowed by Canton in a state tournament game. The 27 points allowed against St. Bernard in a 55-27 quarterfinal victory tied the record for the third fewest points allowed by Canton in a CIAC contest.

Collinsville Press, March 19: Canton stops Thomaston for first-ever state championship

Waterbury Republican American, March 20: Thomaston handles defeat with grace, dignity

Waterbury Republican American, March 20: Canton denies Thomaston’s attempt to win three straight

Hartford Courant, March 20: Canton stops Thomaston to win first state title

Canton Compass, March 19: Canton wins Class S championship

GameTime CT, March 19: Canton beats Thomaston for first state championship

 

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years.

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