St. Thomas Aquinas takes home New England championship
The St. Thomas Aquinas varsity girls basketball team has done something that no STA team had ever done before.
The seventh and eighth grade girls won the New England Diocesan championships, with a 22-20 win over St. James of Norwich on Sunday in Manchester, N.H. to capture the crown.
This year's varsity team was the first team from St. Thomas to ever win both the New England varsity and junior varsity championships. The girls on this year's varsity team won the championship as sixth graders at the junior varsity (fifth and sixth grades) level.
"There were a lot of solid players," St. Thomas Aquinas coach Mike Hooper said. "They were good athletes."
Hooper returned to coach the team even though his daughter, Jane, went to Ludlowe this year. His squad qualified for the trip to Manchester by winning the Diocese of Bridgeport championships, knocking off St. Lawrence of Shelton on Feb. 13.
"The parents asked if I wanted to coach another year," Hooper said. "I'm a basketball junkie, so I loved it."
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Hooper had his team play tournaments as a precursor to its trip to New Hampshire. He admitted that his team was probably drained from the season that started in October and went through Sunday.
"I'm sure they were all tired at times," Hooper said.
St. Thomas Aquinas was represented by three teams in New Hampshire. Both its junior varsity and varsity squads qualified for the New England championships, but both of those teams fell in the semifinals.
Still, it was a big deal for three squads from the elementary school on the Post Road to qualify for the highest level of competition.
"We were watching the boys play their games," Hooper said. "It was really special."
Hooper believed that playing through the Bridgeport diocese provided his team adequate tests in a buildup to New Englands. St. Thomas Aquinas rolled past Fall River, Mass., and a school from Boston to get to the finals.
"Some of the teams we played in diocesans were better than the teams we played at New Englands," Hooper said.
St. Thomas Aquinas also got the life experience to play Stoutenburgh Gym at St. Anselm College. Hooper thinks that the opportunity to play in a college gym is one that would stay with his squad.
"It was a great experience," Hooper said.
Much of the weekend for Hooper and his staff consisted of scouting the potential opponents, but for the kids who were able to enjoy the trip north, and the parents who got to cheer on their kids.
"The kids all got to hang out, and watch the Final Four," Hooper said. "It was great."
In the end, Hooper believes that his team can take a lot from the ride to the championship.
"They are satisfied with the effort they put in," he said.
Hooper also thinks that his girls got to enjoy the spoils and learn how to play and win in crucial situations.
"They learned how to win," he said. "What it showed me is that they can overcome all of the obstacles and still find a way to come out with a win."