Chasing a championship

Vin Gallo
@VinGallo731

Alex Goslin retreated into the heart of Mohegan Sun Arena, tears streaming down her reddening face. The jeer of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” blared overhead, while Wilton High School’s student section sang final praises to their 6-foot-3, Division I bound senior, and new Class LL state champion Erica Meyer. The Wilton Warriors had done it. For the first time in Wilton girls’ basketball history, with a 73-45 thrashing of the South Windsor Bobcats, the championship was theirs.

For South Windsor, it was another heartbreaking finish to an undefeated campaign that was supposed to avenge its finals loss the previous year to Laurelton Hall. But once again, the season ended in silver. South Windsor’s first title in program history would have to wait another year. And there would be no next time for Goslin’s Bobcats. The summer would graduate the last of the starters from the previous year’s run, and signify the beginning of the end to another South Windsor girls’ basketball era. In a game where she shot 3-12, Goslin was unable to help her team keep pace with Wilton.  

Meyer raised the Warrior’s first ever championship plaque, while the rest of her team flashed their new medals. The jubilation of Wilton’s fans was loud and endless.

“ERI-CA! ERI-CA! ERI-CA!”

The chants chased Goslin through Mohegan’s dim and lonely tunnel toward the locker room. South Windsor head coach Don LeClerc was waiting in the darkness, and embraced with his sobbing junior point guard, a member of two of the most winningest Bobcat teams in school history. She would finish her high school career No. 2 on the all-time scoring list and help bring her team back to the state semifinals her senior year.

“I told her she should be extremely proud of what she had accomplished in her career [up to that point],” said LeClerc. “She’s always going to outrun you and outhustle you. She wasn’t afraid to drive against a 6-foot-3 center. She always sees the opportunity to overcome a challenge.”

***

“Alex! Heather!”

In need of a substitution, Springfield College women’s basketball head coach Naomi Graves called upon her lone senior, Heather King, along with Alex Goslin, her second year point guard.

There were four minutes remaining in the Pride’s ninth tilt of the season. Thanks to a 13-1 run, Westfield State wasn’t going away, with Springfield holding a 60-58 advantage. For the Pride, a four game winning streak was on the line.

Springfield traded blows with the Owls to the final moments of the contest.

Goslin stood beyond the top of Naismith Court’s key, as the clock ticked through the 18 second mark.

Fourth quarter.

68-67 Pride.

Springfield was in desperate need of a bucket to create distance between a high powered Westfield State offense. Goslin blew past the Owls’ Chelsea Moussette and kicked the ball out to junior shooting guard Chelsea McAllister.

16 seconds left.

McAllister eyed the basket before lobbing a pass back to Goslin.

“Shoot it!” yelled McAllister.

14 seconds left.

Goslin turned to the hoop and let a mid-range jumper fly, just over the fingers of the outstretched arm of Rebecca Sapouckey. The ball nicked the back of the rim before sliding through the white twine. Goslin clapped her hands once before racing back on defense. 70-67 Springfield. 12 seconds remaining in the game.

Graves pumped her fist on the sideline as Blake Arena buzzed with life. Goslin’s late shot sealed a 72-67 statement win to put the Pride’s season record at 7-2. Graves is convinced it was one of many game winning shots from her sophomore point guard, who started the season with a 50 percent field goal shooting clip.  

“It helps when a player like Alex comes [into the program] with talent, but I think where she’s grown most with is being able to lead people with her,” said Graves.

***

Alex Goslin has always relished taking on the role of the underdog. It was apparent even before her career on the hardwood took flight. She was 11 years old, and a member of her Little League baseball all-star team, when she first broke out her recitation of Herb Brooks’ speech given to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. “I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a good baseball team Tolland has,” Goslin yelled. “Well screw em!”

The scene from the 2004 film Miracle was always a go-to for a young Goslin, who became aware of it when Joshua Sacco delivered the speech at Fenway Park before the Red Sox 2010 season opener.

“We would hang that speech in the dugout,” she said. “Everyone hung on every word. It was cool.”

As a spectator at his son’s Little League games, Don LeClerc remembers witnessing a scrappy second baseman in Goslin, the only girl on the diamond, either diving in the dirt for a bounding groundball or zipping out of the batter’s box as if the last hope for humanity sat 60 feet away at first base. One thing was clear to LeClerc. Goslin wanted nothing but to win. All that mattered was victory.

“[Alex] never believed anyone was better than her,” he said. “She always plays harder whenever she takes on someone bigger. She’s going to make sure she’s playing faster and stronger than them.”

Goslin’s introduction to hoops began in the stands at six years old while she watched her older brother, Cooper race up and down the court seemingly without tire during his rec basketball contests.

“It was a very exciting game,” she said. “I liked how it was high paced. I loved it from the minute I started playing.”

Goslin will always remember the hours she spent in the driveway practicing with her father and challenging Cooper to one-on-ones. Even New England’s winter temperatures that dance a few single degrees above the freezing point failed to cease the blacktop battles Goslin had with her brother. Her childhood hoop rested 30 feet away from Route 5, separated only by some bushes. An eventful 45 minutes would follow any air ball that bounced onto the highway.

“Their basketball would be in Route 5 all the time,” recalled Goslin’s mother Ronna. “It would roll, because [the highway] is on a decline. We’d have to go jump in the car and circle around to go get the ball.”

Alex looks back on the memory and laughs.

“Our dad would have to go and chase it. It was funny,” chuckled Goslin. “But it was bad…I guess that was motivation to not miss.”

After beginning in her town’s fourth grade girls rec league, Goslin moved on to travel basketball where she joined forces with her future high school teammates. It was with them, when Goslin experienced one of her most memorable winters as a basketball player. To her, there was something about her junior year team that made it back to Mohegan Sun against Wilton. Not only had the team endured a state finals loss the previous year, it had also lost eight seniors to graduation. Goslin remembers the preseason predictions failing to give South Windsor much of a chance.

“We were [a] small [team], essentially all guards,” she said nostalgically. “I thought it was funny how we didn’t really ‘look’ like a basketball team. We just didn’t look like it. But we’d go out and win. We were underdogs. Our record [said otherwise], but nobody really counted us in anything. We used [the doubt] to our advantage.”

To Goslin, there’s nothing better than taking your opponents by surprise.

“When you’re the underdog people don’t expect you to succeed or be with the top [competitors],” she said. “That’s when you get them.”

For Goslin’s Bobcats, they believed they had it all going into its final step toward a state championship. The skill was there, as was the chemistry and drive for victory. But there would be no storybook ending against Wilton. According to Goslin, by the end of the game, she knew her team was outmatched. There were tears shed. Goslin knew it may have been their last chance at glory.

“Sometimes she just gives it so much that emotion is all that’s left,” said her mother Ronna Goslin.

It may have hurt for that one night. Though Alex loved basketball too much to be discouraged.

“I hate losing,” said Goslin. “I always feel a certain intensity when I step onto the court, and its been there since I started playing. It’s how I’ve always played. Nothing could ever make me lose my passion for basketball.”

***

Naomi Graves had no second thoughts the first time she saw Alex Goslin pace the hardwood on the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) stage. She saw a guard that consistently dusted perimeter defenders and had no trouble taking it straight into the teeth of the opposition’s post defense.

“As soon as I talked to her, I knew she was a Springfield kid,” explained Graves. “[As a player] she has an intrinsic drive that the good players have. They’re self-motivated to compete and to be the best. She just does not want to fail.”

For several decades now, the Springfield College’s women’s basketball program has stood by the nickname of ‘Posse,’ the idea of a sisterhood striving together victory. It attracted a great deal of attention from Goslin as an incoming freshman, who was searching for a culture that allowed her to fully express her love for basketball.

“It’s a close knit team where you’re there for each other no matter what,” Goslin said. “We’re a unit. We push each other every day and we tell each other if we’re not doing something right. There’s an unconditional love for one another on and off the court. It’s something special for sure.”

After playing a simple pickup game with Goslin, women’s basketball alumni center Ava Adamopoulos immediately understood the amount of drive the Pride’s freshman point guard possessed. In a meaningless game to 21, few are relentless to the point of sliding across the floor for a loose ball. But that was Goslin.

“She’s a killer,” said Adamopoulos. “Usually a lot of people are lax during pickup but she’s business all the time. That’s when we knew we lucked out with a kid who not only could play, but also encompassed what Posse means and what we strive to be.”

Adamopoulos believes a team led by Goslin can rise to great heights.

“Alex has this contagious passion,” Adamopoulos said. “She’ll always outwork you. We’d be doing box out drills in practice and if she ever switched on to me I remember her boxing me out. And she’d be at my knees. I couldn’t get the ball so I’d literally have to pick her up or physically move her. I would hate it. I’d go, ‘Dang it, I’ve got Alex again.’”

Goslin knew she had found home when Adamopoulos turned to her, a first year player, during times of struggle.

“I would tell her that all the time, you need to lead,” Adamopoulos recalled. “We were playing WPI last year, and I just remember being so tired that I turned to Alex and said ‘You have to be my brain.’ She was my person.”

Such a level of faith boosted Goslin’s confidence.

“Those were key moment for me be because I knew Ava trusted me to be out there,” said Goslin. “She looked to me even though I was a freshman.”

Regardless of what is said of her skill, Alex Goslin has played with an underdog mentality her entire life. It shows clear as day whenever she takes a drive straight at any 6’0 forward, or corrals a rebound in heavy traffic. But she wants more. Goslin will not rest until she tastes a championship, the undefined jubilation she had chased all throughout her childhood.

She looks back on that team from high school, the team that returned to Mohegan, the team that had lost eight seniors. The team that she believed was counted out. She thought about that squad at the beginning of the year, when the preseason prediction went Babson, Smith, and WPI, before Springfield after the Pride lost Adamopoulos, Lexi Windwer, Danielle Racette, and Molly McCausland to graduation. To date, that team is 16-5.

“We still have work to do. [A NEWMAC title] would be incredible,” she said. “Nobody on our team right now has ever won a NEWMAC championship. It’s something that we all want to experience.”

As Goslin’s game continues to grow with the Springfield Pride, Graves knows exactly who to give the ball to with the game on the line.

“We need Alex on the court to win,” Graves said. “At the end of the game we want the ball in her hands. What separates her from other kids is her heart. She has a tremendous amount of tenacity and will to win. Her name’s going to be in the history books one day.”

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