By KEN MORSE
The Plainville girls basketball team enters the season without at least half of last year’s offense. Filling holes left by the gradation of all-state scorer Caitlin Barker (21 points per game) and Samantha Lozefski (10 points per game) is no easy task. Losing junior center Krystyna Miller in her move to Washington D.C. didn’t help, but the Devils are ready for the challenge.
“Obviously we did lose a lot offensively,” said Plainville coach Jess Neuweiler. “Not only did we lose a lot of points, but we lost that intensity and work ethic that they brought to the court.”
Plainville does return all-conference junior captain Jaida Vasquez who led the team in rebounds, assists and steals to go along with a 12 point per game average. Vasquez scored in double figures 16 times for last year’s 12-9 Blue Devils.
“When it comes to scoring it’s going to be by committee,” added Neuweiler. “We are going to need multiple people step up and play a role in our offense. Jaida is a special player and was all-conference, but she can’t do it alone.”
Can this team continue the progress of recent years? Under Neuweiler the Devils have raised the bar each year, improving from 5-15 to 11-10 to 12-9 over the past three seasons. The girls have won the Rybczyk Holiday tournament two years in a row, and they qualified for the state tournament in consecutive seasons. Neuweiler and first year assistant coach Paul Oliva said they see no reason why that trend can’t continue.
“We are going to need our defense to help create offensive opportunities,” said Neuweiler. “I’m not sure we are going to be able to match the offensive output we had last year but you still only need to win by one, and that’s what we will be looking to do.”
The team does return a solid core of players who gained experience and confidence, and each will be asked to take on larger roles. Senior captains Olivia Wazorko and Vanessa Xiques are four-year players, and their experience will be key.
“I can’t say enough positive things about Olivia and Vanessa,” said Neuweiler. “They put this team and this program ahead of themselves every single day. They are the two most unselfish players I ever had the privilege coaching. They have been integral parts of what we are trying to build here since the first day that I got here.”
Juniors Kori Jones (69 points last season) and Tessa Susco (51 points) have already become an integral part of the lineup, and Neuweiler said that they’ll set the tone.
“Kori is a good rebounder and Tessa is hard working defender,” said the coach. “They both possess a lot of talent offensively. They just need to gain some confidence in that role.”
Junior Sydney Oullette scored a career high 11 points in the third game of the season last year and can develop into another key player on the offense. Sophomore Lillian Wazorko has improved her game and will use her skills to help bring the ball up the court.
“Sydney will play a bigger role than she did last year,” added Neuweiler. “She is athletic and can help us to improve. Lillian showed great progress over the offseason. She is able to create offensively and will have a very big role in our offense this season.”
Another key area where the Blue Devils will need to improve is finding a replacement for Miller at center. Juniors Elena Gorneault and Kaitlyn Gagnon both gained experience in the low post last year and have the size and the tenacity to give Plainville a presence in the paint.
“The growth and confidence I’ve seen over the past two seasons with Elena and Kaitlyn has been phenomenal,” said Neuweiler. “They are definitely the most improved. They were role players now they are going to have to be impact players.”
It may be a rough ride at the beginning of the season as Plainville opens up at East Catholic on Monday, Dec. 16, a Class M quarterfinalist last season. The Blue Devils will host Class LL competitior Hall on Friday Dec 20 and then face Class L quarterfinalist Bristol Eastern in the third contest.