‘One game at a time’ led to NVL streak for Greyhounds

Naugatuck High’s Jennifer Rimkus is surrounded by her teammates after scoring her 1,000th career point three second’s into Naugatuck’s 66-27 win over Wolcott on Feb. 3, 1995. Along with Rimkus’ milestone, the Greyhounds won their 100th straight NVL regular season game that night. -NAUGATUCK DAILY NEWS

Before the high school sports year begins, we would like to take a few weeks to look back at some of the most memorable sports streaks Naugatuck High and Woodland have to offer. This week, we look back at the Naugatuck High girls basketball team’s 105 NVL regular season game winning streak.

NAUGATUCK — When Keith Raczkowski became just the second head coach of the Naugatuck High School girls basketball team little did anyone know that history was going to be made.

Coach Raz, a moniker he was affectionately known by, took over for Barbara Giancarlo in the 1985-86 season. Naugatuck returned no starters, two senior bench players, and the rest of the team was made up of freshmen and sophomores. The results were as expected with two wins on the season.

“I think we had six or seven wins and 30 losses the first couple of seasons,” Raczkowski said. “The third year we were around .500 and made the state tournament. Then Jessica Mudry came in with a group of girls that were very competitive.

“It’s not like we expected to put together the kind of streak that followed. We just went at it one game at a time. When it was over we looked back in amazement at what was accomplished.”

What was accomplished in a six-year span was simply head shaking. From the 1989-90 season through 1994-95, the Greyhounds went 126-12, won six straight NVL titles and appeared in the semifinals of the CIAC state tournament three times. Along the way, they won 105 NVL regular season games in a row.

The streak began rather modestly on Jan. 12, 1990 in a 59-49 win over Sacred Heart with the Greyhounds’ best player, Mudry, on the bench with a concussion. Stacie Phillips led the team with 14 points off the bench, and the streak was born.

Naugy won its first NVL title on Feb. 10, 1990 with a 70-65 win over three-time defending champ Torrington. Patti Deitelbaum led the way with 19 rebounds and 15 steals.

“Before I took over I believe Naugatuck had shared a title with Ansonia,” said Raczkowski, who was assisted by coach Guy Tarantella. “Patti was the most ferocious player we ever had. She was a warrior and really impacted the outcome of a lot of games.”

“When I got on the court there was nothing holding me back,” Deitelbaum said. “A few years before that we had trouble winning games. So, I don’t think we put too much focus on the streak. It was more about just getting past our next opponent.

“I think it was only after we graduated and got older did we look back and realize just what we accomplished. It was a special part of my life, and we will always be connected by sharing that experience.”

Naugatuck was loaded with a capital L, led by all-time leading scorer Mudry, who tallied 2,056 career points.

Over the years, there was Dawn Hankey, an all-around player, Sue Rivera, Cathy Theriault and Maria Rodrigues. There were 1,000-point scorers Melissa Sawicki (1,077), Jen Rimkus (1,174) and Monique McRae (1,034). Sawicki, at one point, also held the state record for 3-pointers in a game at 10.

“We learned how to win at Hillside under coach (Fred) Scheithe,” Mudry said. “But when we got to high school Patti Deitelbaum set the tone as to the kind of work ethic that was needed to succeed.”

“We were from small town USA, and there was no social media,” she continued. “We were in each other’s lives all four years in high school. It became a bond that has carried throughout our life and those are special memories of those times.”

In 1991, the Greyhounds won their second straight NVL title with Mudry scoring 30 points and then having her lip stitched up after a 68-67 battle with Ansonia.

Teams sometimes lose their swagger as players graduate, but that wasn’t the case with the Greyhounds. Coach Raz ushered in a class he dubbed the Fab Five in that 1991 season, led by the next scoring machine, Rimkus.

McRae, Becky McGettigan, Kate Klebacha and Kelly L’Heureox were part of that group of freshmen, and the streak continued.

There were many close calls along the way. Sometimes the Greyhounds had to work a little late game magic to keep the streak alive.

On Feb. 12, 1994, Naugatuck played Torrington with the NVL title on the line. Naugy trailed 47-46 with just 4 seconds left and the ball at half court. McGettigan fed the ball to Rimkus all alone in the corner, and when the ball was in the air the buzzer sounded only to have the shot ripple through the basket, setting off a wild celebration.

“That was without a doubt the most moving basketball moment of my life,” Rimkus said. “It brings me to tears. I lost my father in 1991, and when I threw that ball up he went through my head and he was with me.

“That streak played a big part in who I am today. It lasted the whole four years I was at Naugy. The heart and passion that was on those teams set the stage for that success.”

Naugatuck’s Heather Yablonski drives to the basket versus Seymour on Jan. 24, 1995. The Greyhounds won the game, 66-51, for their 96th straight NVL regular season game win. -NAUGATUCK DAILY NEWS

“Coach Raz was a phenomenal coach,” she continued, “he allowed us to develop into the players that we became. We never lost a step playing in the summer leagues with coach Fred Scheithe. After playing in that league, by the time the season started we were already in midseason form.”

Three times the team reached the semifinals of the CIAC state tournament over those six years but couldn’t get any farther. It wasn’t due to a lack of talent. Tricia Koval had a team record 10 blocked shots in a game, and Sarah Shea had a team record 18 assists in a game.

It was the 64-61 loss to Glastonbury in the 1992 semifinals that possibly hurts the most. Lisette Carinha showed all the will power in the world going back in the game on a sprained ankle, but it was just not to be.

The streak lived on with the next wave of players, led by Heather Yablonski, known as the “Shaq.” In 1995, Naugatuck was back in the state semifinals with a perfect 23-0 record. Bridgeport Central pulled out a 49-44 win, and the first appearance in a state championship game for Naugy was denied again.

“The camaraderie is one thing that I will remember the most,” said Yablonski, who scored over 900 points and pulled down over 700 rebounds in her career at Naugatuck. “We just knew what each other’s strengths and weaknesses were and we had each other’s back. We were friends on the court and off the court. The only thing that hurts about being part of such an amazing run is I was a senior when it ended.”

The streak came to an end on Dec. 18, 1995 in a 64-48 loss to Holy Cross.

Two years later, Coach Raz ushered in his next Fab Five freshmen in Jamie Raczkowski, Michelle Decerbo, Nicole Plourde, Jen Butkus and Nicky Plourde, and from 1997-98 through 2002-03 the Greyhounds ran off an impressive league record of 101-19.

Raczkowski stepped down after the 2006-07 season after 22 years, 349 wins, seven NVL titles and four appearances in the state semifinals, the last being in 2003.

Putting together a successful streak takes talent, hard work, dedication and some luck along the way. The streak put together by the Naugatuck girls basketball team had each and will go down among the most successful runs in Naugatuck history.