Pick a spot on the basketball court, and Cary-Grove junior Katie Barker can find a way to burn the defense.
The versatile guard-forward has quickly become one of the area’s toughest players to defend, and her emergence as a dynamic scorer is forcing the Fox Valley Conference to take notice. The 5-foot-10 Barker can post up her defender near the baseline or stretch the defense as a 3-point threat, shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc and 82 percent from the free-throw line this season.
It hasn’t been an easy journey since Barker debuted on C-G’s varsity team as a freshman two years ago. A thumb injury cut her freshman season short, but Barker came back the next year excited to be part of a Trojans team that ultimately won its fourth consecutive FVC Valley title.
However, Barker missed the first half of the 2012 season after surgery to repair the meniscus in her right knee, which she tore on the first day of practice.
“Working my way back, it was definitely a struggle, because I wasn’t very patient,” Barker said. “I wanted to get back.”
In her attempt to get on the basketball court sooner, Barker’s recovery was delayed because of tendinitis that developed from overworking her knee.
“I just wasn’t myself at the end of last season,” Barker said. “I didn’t feel like myself because it was definitely hard to come back from that. But I learned a lot from sitting out and watching the team. It was a really good learning experience for me.”
When last season ended, Barker was focused not only on improving her basketball skills but her body, as well. She lifted weights to strengthen her knee to make sure it wouldn’t be an issue during the summer playing AAU ball for Midwest Elite or this high school season. Barker hasn’t had any problems with her knee this season, and her good health has translated into success on the court.
Through 11 games, Barker is averaging 22.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and scored a season-high 34 points with five 3-pointers in Wednesday’s win against McHenry.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve always been a shooter, but it’s always come pretty naturally to me,” Barker said. “I’d say it’s probably always been one of my stronger points, but when I was younger I was kind of a post player. Between when I started playing until eighth grade, I was always inside. When I got to high school I got to experience being on the wing more.”
Barker has forced opponents into tailoring their game plans to shut her down, like Huntley did in a win against the Trojans on Monday, though she still managed to score 15 points, including two 3-pointers.
“Katie’s such a good player,” Huntley coach Steve Raethz said. “She’s just a really good scorer. She’s really improved her game this year.”
Saffert credits Barker’s work ethic in developing her game, constantly putting in the time at the gym. Saffert said “there’s no secret” as to why she has become such an important part of C-G’s offense.
“Where she’s come from last summer until now, it’s been phenomenal,” Saffert said. “No offense to any shooters – to me, she’s the first pure shooter I’ve seen for us.”
Saffert never had to sit down Barker after last season and explain she needed to be the Trojans’ go-to scorer. It’s a role Barker, in her second season as a C-G captain, has gravitated to ever since returning to the court. Barker and the Trojans will have to battle back if they want to successfully defend their FVC Valley title having already lost two division games.
Never one to concede during tough times, Barker is embracing the challenge of leading C-G, especially amid its struggles.
“After last season, I knew this year it was kind of going to be my team, I guess you could say,” Barker said. “I was going to be the one to lead them, and I wanted to take that role for the team.”