BERLIN - For the Plainville girls basketball team, Tuesday night not only marked the end of the season after a fourth-quarter comeback against Berlin in the opening round of the Class M state tournament fell just short, it also marked the end of Caitlin Barker’s illustrious career.
The senior, the latest member of the school’s 1,000 point club, said goodbye with 20 points, including four 3-pointers, in the losing effort. It also signifies changes will be coming for Plainville.
Barker’s and fellow senior Sam Lozefski’s departures mean a void will need to be filled on the court for the Blue Devils, who will be losing a large chunk of their scoring. Fortunately for head coach Jessica Neuweiler, she won’t have to look very far to fill that void.
She’ll have sophomore Jaida Vasquez to rely on.
Vasquez scored five straight points in the fourth quarter to lead the late comeback against the Redcoats, and finished with 15 points. Barker led the team in scoring, but when Berlin’s defense focused on slowing the senior down, Vasquez took over and almost helped pull off the upset.
“I think Jaida led by example tonight,” Neuweiler said. “She controlled the tempo and pushed the tempo when she needed to.”
Neuweiler will be looking for more leadership from Vasquez come next season, both in the scoring column and on the floor as a ball handler. Vasquez, quiet by nature, may not immediately embrace such a responsibility, but her game always speaks loudly when she has the ball in her hands.
“She’s just getting better year after year,” Berlin head coach Sheila King said of Vasquez’s play. “She’s an exceptional player.”
Vasquez’s productive season has already helped her experience level, which should benefit her continued growth as a junior. Vasquez effectively avoided a sophomore slump, and with a frontcourt returning almost fully intact, Vasquez will still have weapons around her despite the departures of Barker and Lozefski.
“This season was amazing,” Vasquez said. “I think I improved a lot and learned a lot of lessons. I have a lot of confidence in my teammates, like Kori [Jones] and Tessa [Susco]. We have great forwards here.”
For the players that are leaving, they can only express excitement over how Vasquez’s development will continue into next season, and expect to see her among the best in the conference next winter.
“I’m expecting to see her control the floor and take over this program,” Barker said. “She’s played a role like a captain the last two years, so I don’t expect anything less from her.”
Double-digit point totals became a habit for Vasquez throughout this season, but Plainville will need a little more for the 2019-20 campaign. Judging by her performance this season, particularly down the stretch and in big games like Tuesday night, Vasquez will be up to the challenge. And although she said she feels a little bit of pressure to take over the program and assume a full leadership role, if you ask those around her, there’s no reason for pressure. Vasquez’s coaches and players have two years of evidence to support their belief that behind their sophomore stud, the team’s future is in good hands.
“The sky is the limit for Jaida,” Neuweiler said. “I have the utmost confidence in her ability to drive to the hoop and handle the ball. She’s going to be a huge part of our team. We’re going to build around her and hopefully she keeps improving in the offseason.”