As the winter season moves right along, there have been a number of local athletes who have turned in a number of quality performances to help their teams come out with wins.
Berlin’s Dan Veleas and Plainville’s Caitlin Barker have been able to do that, not just this week, but throughout the season so far.
The Redcoats wrestling team has a roster on the younger side this season, but one of its most dependable grapplers has been Veleas, a defending Class M state champion. And the senior is showing why he is not only one of the best in the area, but the state as well.
In Berlin’s dual meet against Bristol Central on Thursday, Veleas was one of three wrestlers to come away with a win. Veleas pinned Matt Duquette in 4:41 in the 145-pound match, scoring the first points for his team.
He then followed it up with a win in the same weight class at the Bristol Central Invitational on Saturday and was named Outstanding Wrestler for the event, after winning four straight matches and then beating Southington’s Jacob Cardozo by a 4-2 decision in the championship match. Veleas was just one of three Redcoats to place at the tournament.
“[Dan]’s a good wrestler,” his father and head coach, Peter Veleas, said. “There isn’t much for me to do other than coach him in certain situations: ‘put your hands here, put your head here.’ For him, it’s about pace and pushing himself all the time because he doesn’t always have to do that. He’s only lost one match all year.”
At the same time, the younger Veleas is also taking is role as the veteran on the team as a serious one, trying to help guide along the younger wrestlers so they can compete at a high level as well.
“I just try to do whatever I can to score as many points as possible and work the whole match,” Dan Veleas said. “I want to set that example [for the younger wrestlers] because if they see me working for the whole match and trying to score as many points as I can, so will they. I just try the best I can to get them to see that we have opportunities ahead of us. I’m just looking to share my knowledge from the last four year and really lead by example.”
One thing is certain: expect the younger Veleas to continue to wrestle at an extremely high level.
The Blue Devils girls basketball team is off to a strong start to the season, entering the week one win off of qualifying for its second consecutive state tournament appearance with a 7-2 record. Of course, Barker has played a key role in Plainville’s success.
The senior is the team’s leading scorer on the season and helped the Blue Devils go 2-0 last week. Barker scored a game-high 29 points in their 65-51 win over Southington on Wednesday and then dropped 13 in a 51-23 rout of Bristol Central on Friday.
“Caitlin is a scorer,” her head coach Jessica Neuweiler said. “She has the ability to find multiple ways to score. She can score from the outside. She can drive inside and pick up a foul. She is really a complete player and she’s done a great job for us. But Caitlin also does a great job of getting her teammates involved, especially Jaida Vasquez and Sam Lozefski, who are both averaging double figures.”
But Barker’s best quality isn’t just her scoring. Neuweiler also pointed to the senior’s leadership quality, as well as her passion for the sport that has really helped set Barker apart from other players.
“She’s a hard worker and she would run through a wall for the program,” the head coach said. “She just loves to play and play at a high level. As a coach, that’s what you’re looking for in a player. Caitlin is very hard on herself and puts pressure on herself to continually get better.”
Both Barker and Neuweiler have high expectation for the player. An All-State selection is at the top of the individual accomplishments and Barker is closing in on 1,000 career points, a mark she is certain to hit sooner rather than later, despite missing most of her sophomore year with a torn ACL.
“To be able to see her come back stronger is great to see,” Neuweiler said. “Her ability to find different ways to help the team has been great. She’s really been a leader for us both on and off the floor.”
Barker is also someone teams will have to continue to watch out for this season.