LOWER MERION >> Basketball runs in Josie Barrett’s family.
The Upper Dublin senior guard is a great outside shooter, as are her brothers, but she’ll assert her dad is the best shooter in the family. The Cardinals run a lot of plays for Barrett and teams plan to try and take her out of the game because if they don’t, she’ll burn them.
It’s a shot well-honed by Barrett family schooling.
“I shoot around a lot with my family, I get a lot of time in the gym,” Barrett said. “We like to have fun and shoot around together. My dad’s the best shooter, probably, and he’s taught me how to shoot since I was little. It’s a way my family bonds, over basketball and shooting.”
While her shooting ability is what most people see when they look at Barrett, just watch an Upper Dublin game and it’s quickly apparent she’s a whole lot more than just a shooter.
“Josie has improved the other aspects of her game so much,” Cardinals coach Morgan Funsten said. “She can act as our point guard if we need her to. Defensively, she disrupts what other teams do so well, she watches tape on other teams and just naturally has a great feel for the game, she really understands what the other team is trying to do and she is a major reason we’re able to defend the way that we do.”
Barrett’s sharpshooting helped spark the Cardinals as they defeated Bonner and Prendergast 51-35 as part of the Blue Chip Super Showcase Sunday at Harriton High School. The senior scored 16 points, 11 of them in the first quarter, drained four 3-pointers and for good measure, pulled down eight rebounds, dished an assist and had two steals.
Upper Dublin won the opening tip and within five seconds, Barrett was hustling back on defense having just buried a 3-point shot. She had her team’s first six points, on two 3s, then hit a third trey toward the end of the frame as UD took an 18-6 lead it was never in real danger of losing.
“I was just making my shots,” Barrett said sheepishly. “It definitely helps hitting the first one, it’s a confidence booster to hit that first shot. It was a lot of things that got us going though, we changed up our defense a little bit.”
It seems like every game Barrett comes up with at least two steals, appearing from out of nowhere to either outright swipe the ball or force a deflection that ends up in a teammate’s hands.
“I’m always aware of where the ball is and where the offense is trying to get it to,” Barrett said. “Sometimes I cheat the passing lane. It comes with experience.”
Barrett entered the season as Upper Dublin’s leading returning scorer and as a four-year varsity player, opposing coaches knew she was someone who had to be guarded all the time. Add to that the graduation of point guard Allison Chernow’s drives and kicks and the looks didn’t come as often or as easily.
Funsten credited Barrett for being able to recognize and get herself back on track near the midway point of the season. Since then, she’s been playing very well and so have the Cardinals.
“She’s all over the court,” Funsten said. “Around the winter break she re-focused mentally and since the new year, she has been the ultimate team player and gotten hot as an individual. She’s shooting the ball really well, but she’s helping us in so many more ways than just shooting.”
As Barrett got her groove back, it seemed like the rest of the team started to settle in around her. Freshman center Jackie Vargas has been a force on defense, Maggie Weglos has grown into the point guard role, dishing seven assists on Sunday and Nicole Kaiser has embraced her role as the team’s top scorer.
Funsten said there was some frustration at the beginning of the year, coming from him, from Barrett and from some other players with varsity experience. The steady growth of the team since December, despite a tough schedule and most likely the end of their string of Suburban One League American Conference titles, alleviated it.
“It’s an entire team that gets someone open, it’s not just Josie’s job to get open,” Funsten said. “As we’ve recognized her strentghs, the other girls have started to embrace what we’re about and now we’re able to do more things to get her open.”
Barrett said she’s had some contact with colleges, but hasn’t decided if she wants to play at the next level yet. That makes sense, since she’s more focused on the present and trying to help her team make the state tournament for the third straight year.
“I just want to get a few wins in playoffs and for us to keep getting better as a team and go as far as we possibly can,” Barrett said.
Kaiser led UD with 20 points, but it was Barrett who picked as the game’s MVP and it sure wasn’t just for her shooting.
“She had 11 in the first quarter,” Funsten said. “That’s what you want out of a senior. Bonner-Prendie has a lot of talent, they beat Boyertown and they were beating (Cardinal) O’Hara at the half the other night, but we felt like we won the game in the first quarter.
FRESHMAN NO MORE
Jackie Vargas doesn’t feel like a ninth grader playing varsity basketball at this point.
Not that she did at the start of the year either, but the adjustment to the high school game is different for every kid, especially a 6-foot-3 center who wants to block shots and be a force on defense. Early in the season, Vargas was guilty of committing fouls that young players make, like trying to reach for blocks and jumping when an opposing player was driving at her.
“Coach Funsten has been telling me to stay on my feet,” Vargas said. “In AAU, I probably jump more than I should, because if you do that, they can just go right by you. I think as time goes on, I’ll be more comfortable with that and I’m starting to get better at it.”
Vargas had four blocks on Sunday, plus more than a handful of alterations against Bonner-Prendie’s smaller forwards and guards. The freshman has rapidly become more of a factor for the Cardinals, adding some offense to go with her defensive role.
The center admitted she was a little uncomfortable on offense at the start of the year as she was adjusting to new teammates and Upper Dublin’s sets. She credited the team’s other forwards like Kaiser and senior Demi Balasa for helping her get comfortable and constantly sending along encouragement.
Vargas hit a 3-pointer to force overtime in UD’s loss to Plymouth Whitemarsh on Tuesday, but to her, it was another shot.
“You would think it would be amazing, but to me it was just normal,” Vargas said. “It was nice and everything but I know I can shoot from 3s. I feel like I’ve been here more than a year but I also think I’ve grown up more.”
On Sunday, Vargas scored six points, earning three trips to the foul line by attacking the basket, and pulled down 10 rebounds.
“The way she moved her feet on defense and disrupts shots, when girls come in and see her, they do not shoot their normal shot because if they do, they’re going to get blocked,” Funsten said. “She’s continued to progress and she’s really fitting in really well for us.”
Tuesday’s loss to PW was tough on the Cardinals, but Funsten used it as a call to rally for his players. He told them they had two choices, either they could call it quits and go through the motions with whatever games they had left or they could use it as fuel for the district playoffs.
The Cardinals took care of Springfield-Montco on Friday, but Sunday’s game was the real test of how UD was going to respond. Vargas and Funsten both noticed it in warmups, there was a certain look the Cardinals had.
“I said to them before the game, and I don’t always say this, that you look you’re ready to play,” Funsten said. “They came out and proved me right.”
Kaiser continued her breakout season with a remarkably efficient game, scoring her 20 points on 10 shot attempts. The junior forward gets to the rim seemingly at will and took 14 free throws for her efforts on Sunday.
“She’s great at drawing fouls and she’s under control,” Funsten said. “She’s as under control attacking the basket as anyone around. She can really get to the rim.
“She had a ‘quiet 20,’ and that’s the sign of a great player. You think she had an OK game and then you see she scored 20.”
Upper Dublin 51, Bonner and Prendergast 35
Bonner and Prendergast 6 10 9 10 — 35
Upper Dublin 18 13 10 10 — 51
Bonner and Prendergast (35): Caroline Manfre 2 0-4 4, Maggie McPeak 3 1-1 9, Maeve McCann 1 0-1 2, Emily Monaghan 2 0-2 6, Dakota McCaughan 3 0-0 6, Alexis Gleason 1 2-2 4, Katie Logan 1 0-0 2, Maddie Oxenberg 1 0-0 2. Totals: 14 3-10 35.
Upper Dublin (51): Nicole Kaiser 4 12-14 20, Josie Barrett 5 2-2 16, Demi Balsas 2 0-0 4, Maggie Weglos 2 0-0 5, Jackie Vargas 1 4-6 6. Nonscoring: Kara Grebe, Megan Barbera. Totals: 14 18-22 51.
3-pointers: BP – Monaghan 2, McPeak 2; UD – Barrett 4, Weglos.
Top Photo: Upper Dublin’s Josie Barrett throws up a shot past Cheltenham’s Caitlin Wallace during their game on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)