By Doug Chapin
For many high school basketball coaches and fans the pursuit of a perfect regular-season record can seem like a distraction as the season winds down and tournament time approaches.
One might hear talk about a late-season loss being beneficial because it removes the pressure of maintaining an undefeated record.
Bristol High’s second-year head coach Craig Giesy sees the Panthers’ quest for a 22-0 regular season — which Bristol successfully completed with an 86-52 rout of Southington on Tuesday night — as a positive.
“The good thing about it was how the community came out. We played in front of big crowds just about every night in the back half of the season,” Giesy said. “We had some camera time, some press time, it was like tournament atmosphere in a lot of those games. If anything I think it was good for us to get to play in those tournament-atmosphere types of games before we got to the tournament. We thought it was a positive experience.”
Bristol’s win Tuesday was typical. The Panthers, who also closed out a 13-0 season in the Northeastern Athletic Conference, press full-court, man-to-man from the start. With a rotation of eight to 10 players, Bristol plays aggressive, athletic defense, fast breaks on almost every opportunity and shows the ability to score both inside and outside.
Brandon Lee led all scorers Tuesday with 27 points and Chad Oliver, in foul trouble for much of the game, followed with 21.
Oliver, one of only two seniors on the squad, is the Panthers’ leading scorer, averaging about 24 points per game. Bristol moves the ball quickly, freeing up shots for just about everyone on the floor, resulting in a balanced attack.
“For the most part we try to stay in the system, I guess it depends on how the game is going,” Oliver said about adjustments the Panthers might make. “My teammates do a great job getting me the ball and giving me the opportunity to score. We work off each other well.”
Bristol, which had never posted an undefeated regular season, was coming off a 12-9 season in Giesy’s first year. A 2003 Bristol graduate, he played on one of two Bristol teams to reach the state final four.
“When last season ended we knew that if we put in the work we’d have a chance to be a pretty good team,” he said. “We put in the work this summer, the boys showed up. We had six or seven varsity guys there religiously each and every day for open gym, working out, getting stronger, getting better.
“We had a good June, we played a lot of good competition in June. After the summer we thought there was a chance this team could do some good things. Now I’m not going to say I think we could have a perfect season, I don’t think any coach every goes into a season thinking it could be a perfect season.
“But things fell into place. When we played bad we found ways to win in the end.”
Zak Dibell, the only other senior on the squad, identified that moment when the Panthers realized an undefeated season was a distinct possibility.
“Probably after the PV and Garfield games we started realizing that we probably could do it,” he said. “It feels great considering that mine and Chad’s teams have not had a lot of success. To be the first team to be undefeated just feels great.”
“It’s a privilege. It feels good as a coach and as a program anytime you are undefeated,” Giesy said. “We had a couple close games we found a way to win in the end and that’s just how it went. In the tournament we’re hoping for similar results.”