If you ask any coach what the most dangerous tangible an opponent can have and the answer will most likely be the same. Hope. Hope doesn’t consist of talent or experience. it has to do with a will that is sparked by the confidence to believe.
Over the past two seasons coach Jessica Neuweiler has introduced that hope and the Plainville girls basketball team has responded.
Neuweiler and assistant coach Katie Mehlhorn took over a program that had just two winning seasons over an eight year stretch. Plainville did qualify for the state tournament three years in a row during that period 2012-2014 but in one of those years the team finished at .500.
The Lady Blue Devils have become the talk of the town again, like back in 2007 and 2008 when Plainville reached the quarterfinals of the Class M tournament.
Two years ago, the Blue Devils posted their first winning season in four years (11-9), and they continued to step forward, going 12-8 for the first back-to-back winning seasons in 10 years.
This year’s journey came to an end with a tight 62-60 loss to Berlin in the opening round of the Class M tournament. But the hope that was instilled in this team continues to thrive, and the growing-by-leaps-and-bounds part is just up ahead.
Plainville fell behind, 21-14, in the first quarter, but the Blue Devils continued to battle. The girls outscored Berlin over the next three quarters and just ran out of time in the final possession.
Neuweiler said that the team might have been a little rusty. The Blue Devils didn’t qualify for the CCC tournament, so they had a two and a half week break between games. Despite the break, she liked the team’s focus when they were down by 5 points at the half.
“I told them we can’t let this get to 10, and what I was proud of the most was how they came back and kept battling,” said the coach. “They were doing all the little things to try and help us be successful and unfortunately we just ran out of time.”
Seniors Caitlin Barker (20 points) and Sam Lozefski (12 points) have been part of this turnaround since day one. Sophomore Jaida Vasquez (19 points) has shown she is more than ready to take up the mantle and lead this team into the future.
“When I got here three years ago they were coming off a 3-17 season. They didn’t know what winning felt like.,” Neuweiler said. “I just asked them to believe in what we were doing and they did it. They worked hard and that was the key. I wanted them to know what it felt like to work hard and being successful because of it.”
All-conference guard Vasquez led the team in assists, rebounds and steals while putting up an average of 13.6 per game. Plainville will also come back with a solid group of sophomores Kori Jones (69 points), Krystyna Miller (59 points) and Tessa Susco (51 points) that will be a year older and represent a solid core of upperclassman.
“Caitlin was our leading scorer and shot 74 percent from the foul line,” said Neuweiler. “But when you look at the rest of the stats Jaida led the team in every other category. The sky is the limit for her and I’m so proud of what she’s been able to accomplish these past two seasons.”
A strong core of JV players, led by sophomores Sydney Ouellette, Elena Gorneault and Kaitlyn Gagnon along with freshman Lillian Wazorko, will give Plainville the kind of depth needed to remain competitive.
“What I want this team to understand is how far they’ve come,” said Neuweiler. “We have laid a solid foundation and even though we are young we are hoping to continue the success that we’ve started.”
“The offseason is really going to be the key for us to keep this going. We need to work on our ball handling, everyone working on their shot and improving on all the little things that it takes to remain successful.”
The future looks bright for the up and coming Blue Devils as coach Mehlhorn guided the JV team to a 11-6 record along with assistant JV coach Matty Gingras as several of the JV players played key roles on the varsity squad.