Whalers are following Dugan's lead

New London coach Kerrianne Dugan huddles with her players during Monday night's ECC tournament game against East Lyme. The Whalers rallied for a 50-46 victory.
New London coach Kerrianne Dugan huddles with her players during Monday night's ECC tournament game against East Lyme. The Whalers rallied for a 50-46 victory. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Ledyard

Their opinion of Kerrianne Dugan hasn't changed. Not half a decade later. And this is the opinion of her contemporaries:

"The dirtiest player I ever played against," one former opponent from the Eastern Connecticut Conference said Monday, a sentiment echoed by a handful of others.

Dugan smirked ever so subtly Monday night upon learning the news.

"I could see that," she said.

This was not long after she had just watched her team have to do everything but walk barefoot over broken glass to reach the ECC tournament semifinals.

Suddenly, Dugan's face got more serious than a trial judge. She issued the following statement, the articles of her belief:

"I'm not going to be dirty just to be dirty," she was saying. "I don't want to lose. No matter what I do. I will not lose. I want to do whatever it takes for my team to win."

And there, in one line, is why Dugan has revived girls' basketball at New London High School. They will not lose. They will do what it takes. This is the ideology. This is what the coach does as habit, not reaction.

When it was over Monday in the ECC quarterfinals, the Whalers erased an early 17-4 deficit. They were down 10 in the fourth quarter. They would not lose. Go ahead and mock the influence and tentacles of sports. Go ahead. It's just that in how many other endeavors are a bunch of high school girls going to find a twentysomething role model of the same gender who preaches and demands the concepts of perseverance and resilience faithfully in their lives?

"She brings out a fire in us. Actually, she lights it beneath us," senior Lexus Childs-Harris, the conscience of the team, said after the 50-46 win over East Lyme. "She pushes us, works with us, motivates us. That's all you could ask for."

Childs-Harris was there for the bad days. Like her first two seasons. Losing gave way to apathy. Now comes this. After Monday's game, the New London faithful began their haunting chant of "Whaaaaaay-lerz, Whaaaaay-lerz," so familiar to boys' games over the years. Except this was a girls' game.

"It really feels good," Childs-Harris said.

"They've got that Whaler pride now," assistant coach Mike Morgan said.

Dugan coaches much of the game with her arms folded, hair pulled back in a tight bun. Part schoolteacher, part warden. And while she had reasons galore to go volcanic - they never corrected a scoreboard error that took two points away from the Whalers - she stayed calmer than a lagoon.

"She has steel running through her veins," Morgan said. "I never really knew her before I started coaching with her. She doesn't fear anything. I'll take her intensity. She's intense all the time. She always wants to win."

This game, which tipped at 5:30 on a Monday, had many more New London folks there than friends and relatives. Even superintendent Nick Fischer was watching, wrapped in his green and gold scarf.

"What she's done here has been amazing," Fischer said. "She knows how to get them up and calm them down."

This isn't to say the program has been bereft of moments in the past. Linda Pfeiffer and the late James Johnson coached state tournament teams and sent players to college basketball. Pfeiffer's care for her players off the court was exemplary.

But this feels different. Dugan, a 2011 graduate of Central Connecticut, isn't all that much older than her players. She played in the ECC at Waterford. She's been there. And not all that long ago. Girls need adult women role models. They've got a keeper in Whalerville.

"Coaching is a whole new world. The most stressful thing I've ever done," Dugan said. "I've always liked being the underdog and proving people wrong. I want to build a program. There's a ton of talent here maybe undiscovered or maybe not brought all together.

"I try to be the best role model for them I can be," Kerrianne Dugan said. "I've been through all the things they're going to go through. I want to be there for them."

Telling them they will not lose.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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