BRISTOL — As longtime Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball coach Connie LaRose reached her 300th win at Vergennes on Thursday, current and former players praised LaRose as a coach and a person, while peers marveled at the Bristol resident’s long tenure and consistent success.
LaRose, 65, is in her 19th year heading the Mount Abe program. In the 1960s she coached a year each at the high school level in New Haven and Bristol (see related story). LaRose has won more games than any high school coach in Addison County, and her career winning percentage is about .660.
But her players spoke as much about LaRose’s character as her coaching ability.
Koran Casey, a freshman starter on the Eagles’ 1997 title team, said LaRose always saw more to life than basketball.
“She also expected us to be students first, and that was very important. She was always, ‘Got to have your grades,’” Casey said. “She gave us every opportunity to be members of our family, students and then athletes.”
LaRose is known for remaining calm during games: A technical foul she was assessed on Thursday was her second in 21 years. Still, Steph Bell, a 2005 Mount Abe graduate, said it is also true that LaRose is not so quiet in practices.
“She’s pretty laid-back in the games,” Bell said. “But in practice ... she’s like, tough love. She yells, but not to be mean. She wants to be heard.”
But Bell said athletes also see another side of LaRose, and those who choose can see even more.
“She’s completely different off the court. We went to her house every game before home games for team dinners, and she welcomed us into her home with open arms ... She’s a sweet woman,” Bell said. “A lot of people don’t know she paints, she plays the guitar. And there’s just a lot more to her than just basketball.”
Peg Casey played on LaRose’s 1968 Bristol High team and watched two daughters — Koran and Michaela — play for LaRose. Not all went completely smoothly, but Peg Casey said she always understood LaRose’s point of view.
“Everything that she did do ... I think she wanted them to be better,” Casey said. “Certainly the desire and the goodness of the thought was there. It might not have always come out the best way. The heart was always in the right place. I couldn’t ask any more.”
What also made the occasional disagreement easier to accept, Peg Casey said, was she knew how hard LaRose worked.
“She didn’t ask any more of you as a parent or as a player than she was willing to give of herself, and that’s pretty unique,” she said.
Koran Casey, who now coaches the Mount Abe freshman girls’ team, has seen that work ethic up close, as a player going through carefully choreographed practices as well as offseason camps and leagues, and as a colleague seeing LaRose put it all together.
“Probably nobody in the state ... puts more effort into their basketball program,” she said.
Current senior Shanna Gebo, the first to hug LaRose after Thursday’s win, said individuals don’t get lost in that program.
“I wouldn’t be the player that I am without her. She always believes in you and pushes you to your best and knows what you can do,” Gebo said. “She’s just a great coach.”
Sure, Gebo said, sometimes LaRose earns her reputation for being hard-nosed.
“She’s tough. Any coach is tough,” Gebo said “That’s what makes us work harder.”
Bell said some players probably did not fully understand that when LaRose pushes it’s because she just wants the best for, as well as from, her athletes.
“I think a lot of players took her the wrong way,” Bell said. “But you have to understand she’s yelling at you because she knows you can play and she wants to see something better out of you.”
Certainly, coaches that have faced and watched LaRose’s teams respect her accomplishments.
“She is always tough to play against,” said Otter Valley’s Ray Counter. “You know you’re in a game with her.”
Counter is amazed at her ability to span 41 years.
“I wonder how she has done it as long as she has. She has adjusted to the changes in society,” Counter said. “We’re out of that strict discipline era ... She’s been able to adapt.”
Vergennes coach Billy Waller echoed that point.
“In today’s basketball with everything that goes on, where the kids are different from when she started, and with the parents and all that, just to get to be able to coach 300 games is a real milestone,” Waller said. “And then you have to be real good to win 300. And I don’t know if she really gets the credit she deserves in this area for winning 300 games.”
Waller wouldn’t be surprised if there were many more victories in the pipeline.
“Right now she’s got a team that’s working hard for her, and I’ve got a feeling there could still be another hundred or two in the works if she so chooses,” he said.
If so, possibly more Eagles will feel the way Bell does.
“I watched her coach when I was in elementary school, and I always wanted to play for her. She loves the game, and she always brings that to every practice, every game,” Bell said. “She taught me a lot. You know, my love for the game came from her, and that’s why I kept playing. I wanted to make her proud of me. I have a special place in my heart for her.”