Desirae Peiffer will be counted on to help lead the defending city champion Crocus Plainsmen varsity girls basketball team. (FILE PHOTO)
Guard Brock Hiltner (9) will lead Neelin. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
The Crocus Plainsmen have dominated the Brandon varsity girls’ high school basketball scene for the last six years, but that could change this season.
The six-time defending city champions underwent a massive change from last season and have become a fairly young group. The team lost two star players in post Stephanie Hunter, who’s now a member of the Brandon University Bobcats’ women’s basketball team, and guard Abbi Robinson, who has moved on to play college volleyball at Briercrest College in Caronport, Sask., as well as a handful of players who graduated and a pair who decided not to return to the team for their Grade 12 seasons.
The Plainsmen have seven new players this season, and head coach Adam Hartman feels they will be behind the eight ball a little bit when they open the Brandon High School Basketball League season tonight against the host Vincent Massey Vikings at 6 o’clock.
"We’re definitely in a spot where we’re probably the least experienced team in the city at this point," he said. "We’ve got some good athletes that are really working hard and are really committed to the team and I believe that early on we might take our lumps, but hopefully come February we’ll be right up there and competing with Massey and Neelin for that city title.
"I think it will be pretty even across the board and that anyone can win it this year, so it will be fun to see what happens. It will be a fun journey."
Hartman is looking at Desirae Peiffer and Michelle Kyle to lead the charge this season for the Plainsmen, but he knows the other teams have a bit more balance.
Neelin is a very experienced group that is led by forward Paige Thomson, who played on Manitoba’s girls basketball team that won a bronze medal at the Canada Games during the summer, as well as the talented trio of Courtney Matienzo, Jordan Hardy and Kristine Ward, all of whom are in their senior seasons.
Massey returns eight players from last year, including Tara VanCauwenberghe and Brittany Boschman, who are expected to lead the team in scoring and rebounding. While there’s so many returning players and a balance of speed, height and ball-handlers, the Vikings are still trying to figure out what kind of team they will be this season.
With so many young players on the Plainsmen, Hartman wishes he had more than three weeks before his team’s first league game, but he hopes they’ll be ready for Massey tonight.
"We’ve only been together now for three weeks," he said. "It’s going to be a game right now where there’s not much in place for both Massey and ourselves, but the girls are excited about it. They enjoy playing and we’ll see how it goes."
Meanwhile, the Neelin Spartans are looking for their 11th varsity boys’ city title in 12 years this season.
The Spartans, who finished second in the Brandon Sun Spartan Invitational tournament’s Tri-Star (Tier 2) Division on the weekend, lost a pair of players — Theo Farough and Isaak Stark — who moved on to the Brandon University Bobcats, but they still have a decent base group that includes forward Mason Hodgson and guard Quinton Hunter, both in their senior seasons, as well as Grade 11 point guard Brock Hiltner.
Neelin has a very different look from the past few seasons, but head coach Don Thomson likes what he has seen so far from his players.
"We’re longer and more athletic than probably I’ve had a team in the last five or six years," he said. "We have to keep maturing athletically, so that means taking care of ourselves, getting stronger, being aware of what it takes and improving our basketball IQ."
The Spartans’ main competition this season should be the Vikings, who host the Plainsmen in the season opener today at 7:45 p.m. The Vikings have a solid balance of players in Grade 11 and 12 and Thomson already has a lot of respect for the way they defend.
The Plainsmen, meanwhile, are made up entirely of players in Grade 10 and 11 and are focused on learning the game and building into a contender.
While the Plainsmen are a young team, Thomson expects them to become a dominant squad in the next year.
While Massey and Crocus open the season today, Neelin has the advantage of not rushing into its first league game. The Spartans won’t play their first until Jan. 7 when they host the Vikings, giving Thomson extra pre-season time to improve his team.
"We’re really going to use our Christmas break as a time to get better," Thomson said.
"This is our pre-season, we play some games and evaluate where we are and now we’re going to use our break to get better on the basketball court and get stronger and faster."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 17, 2013