After beating top-seeded E.O. Smith to win the Class L championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena last March, the players from the Bacon Academy girls basketball team didn't return to Colchester and go their separate ways.
The Bobcats didn't want the season to end. So it lasted one more night: The whole team went to point guard Carlee Putnam's house for pizza and a sleepover.
"The next morning we were reading all the newspaper articles about us," senior forward Michaela Siver said. "We felt famous. That was probably the best feeling."
After losing their all-time leading scorer from the previous year, not a lot was expected of the third-seeded Bobcats, who lost three times during the regular season. Not even their coach Dave Shea expected them to upset No. 2 Pomperaug 50-49 in the semifinal or favored E.O. Smith 38-34 in the final.
"No, I was surprised last year to win the championship, obviously," said Shea, whose team won its second title in four years. "We worked hard and caught a few breaks. We played well when we had to. We played pretty good defense in that final game against E.O. Smith. Yeah, it was a very pleasant surprise."
The Bobcats, who went 22-3, return almost their entire team from last year's championship run.
Taylor McLaughlin, a versatile player who was the point guard her sophomore year and a post player last year — and who helped bottle up E.O. Smith center Morgan Olander in the final — is back. McLaughlin, who is 5-10 and headed to Southern Connecticut, averaged a double-double (20 ppg, 11 rpg). Putnam, last year's point guard, returns. So does Sarah Rogers, the team's second-leading scorer (10.3 points) and rebounder (8.5). She hit two free throws with 24 seconds left to ice the win in the final game. Siver averaged 8.3 points and 7.6 rebounds.
They are all seniors. They know how to do this.
"As long as the girls don't think they're special because they won it last year," said Shea, in his 43rd overall year of coaching, 19th with the girls team. "They got to really work hard. People are telling them they're going to be good. You know what that can do, you know?"
They could get cocky? Complacent? Forget how to play defense (especially now that their defensive specialist Kelsey McCarthy graduated)? It's doubtful that Shea will allow any of that to happen.
"[People say] 'You guys are going to win again, right?'" Putnam said. "You don't want to say anything. You don't want to be like, 'Oh, yeah,' or 'No, we're horrible' — which we're not — so you don't know what to tell them. Yeah, we're going to try."
Siver believes that the team will be able to deal with the increased expectations.
"I think this year, the most important thing is going to be mental," she said. "Our fall league coach [Carlee Putnam's father] told us, 'You don't just have to act like state champions, you have to play like state champions.' We've got to go just as hard as we did last year. Twice as hard."
Because Bacon only had 14 ECC games this season, Shea has loaded up the nonconference schedule with teams like Class LL champion Career and Class M contender Cromwell. So the regular season won't be easy.
Asked what she liked about this year's team, McLaughlin laughed.
"It's almost the same as last year's team," she said.
Shea was typically low-key.
"We're doing all right," he said. "Not anything sensational or anything, but we're plugging along."