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Tuesday March 27, 2018 Edition
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Mt. Abe Eagles Ladies Basketball Team Division Two Champs

Tuesday March 27, 2018

By Cookie Steponaitis

There is something special about the bus ride home from Barre Memorial Auditorium and a championship win that stays in the mind and heart long after the excitement has ended. Images of the 1800 plus crowd, the realization two-thirds of them were there for your team, the sound of the buzzer, the exaltation, victory, cheers and tears freely flowing are in the minds of the team and their coach. While this is far from the Eagles first trip to Barre or the winning ride home, complete with fans, police and fire department escort, this particular champion team has layers of stories and meaning about this victory showing the story of the program, coach and community that proudly supported them.
    Varsity Coach Connie LaRose started coaching in 1966 at what was then Beeman Academy and in 1967 moved to Bristol High School and was a community member when Mt. Abraham opened in the fall of 1968. LaRose was unable to coach at Mt. Abe then because of a rule in place that said only teachers could be on the coaching staff. While she stepped away for a few years from coaching she continued to play in women’s leagues and coached three seasons in Germany when her family was stationed overseas. LaRose returned back home in the late 1980’s and has been on the Mt. Abe coaching roster since.
    Looking at her champion team, LaRose shares that while some talent is obviously necessary, it is the chemistry of the group that often dictates the success of a group. Mt. Abe won the state championship in 1997, 2013, and 2014 and now the 2018 title and in between has been to Barre for other championship games and has lost. “They don't all have to be best friends, but they do need to care about each other, to trust each other and to have each other's back when the going gets tough,” explained Coach La Rose. “This particular team has had some lofty goals since a young age. They were old enough when Mt. Abe won championships in 2013 and 2014 to know they wanted to do the same thing when it became their time. They have embraced the challenge of becoming a state champion. A year ago we lost in the quarterfinals by one point - a game we could have won - to the same team we just defeated for the championship.” Surprising to many readers and even fans may be the level of commitment the girls Mr. Abe basketball program requires. Coach LaRose went on to explain that nearly every member of the team plays AAU basketball in the spring and early summer and the group attends SWISH Team Camp (started in 1996) at the University of Southern Maine every year in late June. In addition the group participates in a summer league with Chittenden County during the months of July and August and rounds out summer with at least a week long basketball camp.
    Since she began coaching LaRose has seen it as a partnership with the families, community and athletes creating a program benefiting all players. Coach LaRose went on to explain, “I believe the foundation for all of this is that as a coach, it’s absolutely necessary that you never lose sight of the fact that it isn't about just one team for one year or maybe two. It must always continue to be about the program watching young players with potential, recognizing the players who will work hard to improve their game. Helping them find and hold on to the excitement that goes with playing this game. The wins will come if the program is solid, from its foundation to the very top. No one is going to win a state championship every year; there are just too many variables that can derail things - injuries, talented players who decide they are going to go in another direction, not enough talent, not enough time, but continuing to strive for the wins, to attain that championship - those are some of the things that make up a program. When I watch the excitement showing on the faces of the young fifth and sixth grade girls who have been watching our team all season that's a program. Those ten and eleven year olds are already excited about getting their chance to put their mark on the next five or six years of basketball at Mt. Abraham.”
    The Eagles Girls Team in action shows that on the court they are a tight and precise unit with all of them participating in another sport and most either in band or chorus, multi-tasking and goal setting are certainly a priority. Coming up together since AAU basketball in elementary school, the group moves the ball with a determined pace and eye for each other. Led by eight seniors who have been playing together at least since seventh grade, the Mt. Abe fans have had a season of remarkable play and games that sometimes changed direction and power in minutes. Coach LaRose shared that off the court the group performs many wonderful services for the community including helping out with elementary basketball teams, providing community service, organizing and working with Kindergarten basketball at Bristol Elementary and a packed gym for that big game witnessed the varsity girls helping the young athletes move the ball up and down the court, assist at the basket and brought along the Mt. Abe mascot Eddie the Eagle who provided the cheering sections, a memorable component of a big home game. Lastly, a special tradition is bringing Christmas dinner to a former bus driver who drove for years and hundreds of Mt. Abe sports teams.
    At the winning buzzer in Barre, local photographer and devoted Mt. Abe fan Mark Bouvier captured Coach LaRose embracing many of her players and a special and emotional hug for one on the team, Emma LaRose who happens to be her granddaughter. Coaching her since she was a third grader playing on a 5th/6th AAU team, LaRose has been at Emma’s side or in the stands since she started. As fate would have it Emma was born while her grandmother was coaching a game at Randolph High School. Coming to grandma’s for daycare meant she either went to soccer practices on the field or basketball practice in the gym.
    “When she fell asleep I would put her backpack behind the ball rack to make certain she didn't get hit by a wild pass,” explains LaRose with a huge grin. “Once she was walking she soon thought she could do most of the basketball drills. I would put her in the ball cage with a dozen or so basketballs and that would entertain her for quite a while. From the age of six or seven she was my ball girl until she started high school. She was with me through countless practices back in those days. She usually carried one of my clipboards and was always diagraming plays for me to look at. To have her be on this team and winning a state championship, I can't even begin to find words to describe just how special this journey to the top has been for me, and hopefully for both of us.  Emotional for sure, but very special.  I hope it is a memory she carries with her for a long, long time.”
    While the celebrations still continue and the banner is yet to be hung in the gymnasium for all and future generations to see, the members of the Ladies Eagles Team have committed to memory the special moments, bonding, struggles and in the end precision that led them to a victory that will bind them in years to come. The word champion is often used with a state team and in this case it is truly deserved. This group has played hard, worked harder and when it mattered brought home for themselves and their fans a victory that stands as much for them as individuals and their coaches as it does the community, school and people who support them year in and out. The Valley Voice salutes the 2018 Division Two State Girls Basketball Champions of Mount Abraham and Coach LaRose for years of love, dedication and persistence to show each new generation the lessons learned on the court that transcend to follow us into life.


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