PLAINVILLE - There was a point last Wednesday when Caitlin Barker began to feel nervous as she stepped on the court.
The Plainville girls basketball senior captain had played well over the first 16 minutes of the game against East Hartford and went into the locker room with 18 points. It was only when the Blue Devils were coming out for the start of the second half she started to take notice of the white pieces of paper in the crowd.
“I saw people with the 1,000[-point] signs and I was like ‘oh, no,’” Barker said. “People were approaching me and said I had seven points left. I felt my mouth go dry.”
It turned out to be a moment Barker won’t forget.
After hitting two 3-pointers to calm any nerves, Barker found herself on the receiving end of a long pass from teammate and one of her best friends, Krystyna Miller, which looked like it would sail over a wide-open Barker.
But the senior calmly made a difficult catch look easy, landed on her feet, and at the 2:39 mark of the third quarter, put up her shot off the backboard as two Hornets defenders converged.
One thousand career points.
“It was, honestly, the best moment of my whole life because it represented all the adversity I had gone through and represented my basketball career,” said Barker, who became just the 10th player in school history to accomplish the feat and the first since Kelsey Clemens in 2014.
That’s why after she gave a smile and thumbs up to her mom in the stands she went down to the ground to collect her thoughts. Plainville coach Jessica Neuweiler called a timeout after the basket to give Barker her moment, and to give her a hug as well.
“I ran out there and told her I was proud of her because to see someone of Caitlin’s talent and ability, four games in[to the 2016 season], to lose that to a torn ACL is devastating,” Neuweiler. “And I think sometimes the physical part of the injury comes back quicker than the mental aspect of it, and to be able to see how hard she worked at both aspects of it, it was the epitome of being able to have her have a moment she absolutely deserves.”
At the same time, Barker also wanted to share it with the people who had helped make that memory possible.
“It was fantastic,” she said. “To celebrate that moment with my teammates and my coaches, that was the best. I’ve never really experienced something like that.”
But as Neuweiler noted, there was a moment when the milestone didn’t seem possible.
That torn ACL had cost Barker almost her entire sophomore season. There was surgery, physical therapy and most importantly regaining trust the knee would hold up to any kind of contact or movement.
After almost a year of rehab, which included her dad, AAU team and Plainville squad helping her work her way back, it didn’t take long for Barker to play like she always had. But at the same time, she thought the 1,000-point mark was out of reach.
“After my sophomore year, I kind of put it in the back of my head and said, ‘it’s never going to happen, so I’ll just go out there, play with my team, and get as many wins as I can,’” Barker said. “Honestly, I was more focused on wins than the points I would get.”
Sometimes, that can be the best way to approach it, because as the games rolled along, the points began to mount. By the start of Barker’s senior season, the coaching staff and athletic director Chris Farrell knew her joining school’s 1,000-point club was well within reach. It was only a matter of waiting and watching.
“We had the countdown and had multiple people looking at it,” Neuweiler said. “Right before that game she was 25 points away. We knew it was possible because that’s what she’s averaging on a night-to-night basis. But when she had 18 points at the half, we really had to pay attention to it. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that moment and I think she handled it really well.”
And with the Blue Devils getting ready to finish up their regular season and prepped for the playoffs, there’s still plenty of chances for Barker to add to her point total and climb the list.
Getting to the milestone was the hard part. But as always, that’s second on Barker’s mind.
“We want a high seed in the tournament and to do that, we have to win,” Barker said. “I just want to help my team as much as I can. That’s my main goal.”
For Neuweiler, that’s what continues to make Barker a special player.
“You’re lucky to come into a program and have an athlete of Caitlin’s ability,” Neuweiler said. “I’m tough on Cait and I hold her accountable for a lot of things. I saw the potential from Day 1 when I first saw her play. For me, I just wanted her continue to do all the little things to achieve greatness. Caitlin’s drive and passion for the game of basketball, as a coach, you want that for every one of your players in your program. That’s stuff you can’t teach.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org