By KEN MORSE
It has been a season of change for the Lady Blue Devils. Almost every time they stepped out onto the court a new accomplishment was made and another challenge was overcome.
Plainville came into the season looking to change the mindset of girls basketball that had seen only two winning seasons in the past 10 years. The Blue Devils began the season with a loss to New Britain and then shifted gears.
The Blue and White then ripped off five straight wins, the longest winning streak since the 2007-2008 team piled up 12 in a row on their way to an 18-2 mark advancing to the Class M quarterfinals.
The accomplishments made this season have created a new culture within the Lady Blue Devils program led by head coach Jessica Neuweiler in her second year at the helm and assistant coach Katie Mehlhorn.
“When we are healthy and have everyone back we are a much different team,” said Neuweiler. “We hit a rough patch around midseason but we head into the post season with back-to-back wins under our belt and we are ready to go.”
The first goal that was achieved was winning the Rybczyk Holiday tournament for the first time since 2007. The Blue Devils then qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 2014. Plainville qualified for the CCC league tournament for the first time since 2012 and along the way finished as co-champions of the Southern Region Patriot Division.
“I’m so proud of these girls and what they accomplished,” said Neuweiler. “This will bring a little pride back getting to hang a banner in our gym as co-champions.”
There was much to celebrate and the Blue Devils got the opportunity when they held senior night festivities last Wednesday to honor team captains Isabel Lozefski, Meghan Guimond, and Amiyah Peters along with senior Jasmin Vega.
“It’s incredible what we have achieved,” said Guimond. “I knew last year that we had the ability to do some of these things and I’m so proud to be part of what we have accomplished.”
Plainville took on Sacred Heart Academy and came away with a 52-39 victory to finish the regular season at 11-9. For the Lady Blue Devils it was a chance at redemption as the Hearts dealt them a defeat earlier in the season that began a tumble that saw Plainville drop 7 of the next 8 games.
“We hit a rocky road in the middle of the season with injuries and sickness,” said Isabel Lozefski. “We were so close to beating them the first time around. Being our last home game in our career we wanted to go out on a high note.”
It didn’t start out so good for the Blue and White as they didn’t hit their first basket until 1:39 left in the opening quarter and trailed 9-2 going into the second stanza. Coach Neuweiler assured her troops that sooner or later the shots would begin to start falling and not to lose patience.
What started to turn it around was an all out hustle and a focus on defense. Plainville had three different players (Jaida Vasquez, Peters and Sam Lozefski) come up with steals over a span of three straight possessions and when Caitlin Barker pulled up and drained a three it was a tie game 13-13 with 5:06 to go in the half.
Barker led the way with 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. It was her play hustling down the other end that started to slow the Hearts down. The Blue Devils took their first lead at the 4:32 mark when Peters drained a pull up jumper from the corner.
Elena Farquharson 13 points and Ally Kirck nine points led Sacred Heart Academy but points were hard to come by in the second half as the Plainville defense created 11 turnovers and allowed just 13 points.
“I have always been a defensive player,” said Peters. “When it comes down to it defense can shut a team down and get our offense going at the same time. Playing defense gets every up for it and the energy level can just change the momentum of a game.”
The Blue Devils turned the ball over just twice in the second half helping them overcome a 26-25 halftime deficit. Vasquez (10 points, six steals, five rebounds) has a knack for being in the middle of big plays and it was her coast-to-coast drive off a rebound that put Plainville on top 41-35 heading into the final quarter.
Olivia Wazorko helped to apply the defensive pressure along with Sam Lozefski (8 points, three rebounds, two steals). Isabel Lozefski (5 points, 3 assists) steered the offense with Kori Jones (4 points, four rebounds) mixing it up underneath.
Sacred Heart Academy made a final push to get back in the game but six turnovers in the first three minutes didn’t help their cause. Meghan Guimond ended all doubt of a comeback attempt when she blocked a shot at one end and then drained a pair of free throws at the other to account for the final outcome 52-39.
A time out allowed coach Neuweiler to pull her seniors off the court for the final time to a rousing ovation and the celebration began. Plainville heads into the post season with Barker 20.7 points per game and 6.3 rebounds along with Isabel Lozefski 9.3 points per game being named to the All-Conference CCC Patriot South Division team.
“We have a great senior group and they are going to be missed,” said Neuweiler. “But I’m excited about the progress the younger kids have made. Jaida (Vasquez) averaged 9 points a game and six rebounds and played with great composure. We got a lot of contribution from a lot of younger players and looking forward to the development of this team. But it’s one step at a time and the post season is another step that we are taking.”
Last Thursday Plainville went into the CCC tournament having to take on 19-1 RHAM. The Blue Devils were poised and showed they belonged getting out to a 17-15 first quarter lead.
Barker led the Blue Devils knocking down 18 points with Isabel Lozefski and Peters checking in with five points each. Tessa Susco three points, Vazquez and Wazorko had two points each to complete the scoring for Plainville.
RHAM took over the game with a 29-5 second quarter and came away with a 70-43 win as Plainville ranked 12th will now gear up for a run in the Class M state tournament that begins on Monday, Feb. 26.