Seniors lead fast-paced Spartans into NIT


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Dani Black had to completely remodel her game to avoid a repeat of last year.

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Dani Black had to completely remodel her game to avoid a repeat of last year.

“I’ll never get over that,” the senior forward said of the Dauphin Clippers’ 25-point comeback to beat her Neelin Spartans at AAA varsity girls provincials in 2022.

Neelin lost some key pieces from that bronze-medal team, including six-foot-one Kassidy Loewen, a double-double machine and impactful presence on defence.

The No. 4-ranked Spartans have another chance to showcase how they’ve grown this year with their Neelin Invitational Tournament today and Saturday. They host the Virden Golden Bears today at 2:40 p.m.

“Dani’s taken on a bigger role, scoring, rebounding, passing, leadership, defence, everything,” said Spartans head coach Carey Lasuik. “She’s had to step up in every aspect of her game.”

Lasuik noted the team lost size but also depth and scoring for the 2023 season. He got some unexpected help inside, however, as Madison Kwiatkowski branched out and tried basketball for the first time after her senior volleyball season ended. Lasuik said the five-foot-nine forward is coachable and has worked hard to become a factor in the paint.

Kwiatkowski felt the steep learning curve of a new game when she didn’t understand the drills initially. And it certainly hit in her first tournament, the Crocus Plains Early Bird back in December after just a few practices.

“I do go to the gym quite a bit but don’t really work on cardio there so definitely a big difference,” she said.

“I was in the starting lineup and running back and forth. That gym was so hot so I was dying and he played me most of the time, so it was a lot. But I’ve definitely gotten used to it now.”

There’s some extra running involved in Neelin basketball this year to combat its lack of size.

Last year, Lasuik felt it was tough to teach more complex systems with a team that lost its 2020-21 season. Some of the players had little to no basketball experience and certainly nothing close to varsity-level ball. He feels the group has caught up for the most part.

That means he can employ full-court pressure and trust his players to operate in a faster-paced, chaotic game. Black doesn’t mind one bit.

“I love pressing, I love getting all those turnovers,” Black said. “It’s how I would like to play basketball. It’s better than having to come back, set up on defence and then go.”

Whether it’s leading the fast break or setting up a half-court offence, Grade 11 guard Tyra Lasuik is controlled yet attack-minded. She started as a sophomore last year and also sets for the varsity volleyball team, where Kwiatkowski was one of her go-to attackers.

“She scores a lot, she’s really good at shooting threes and moving the ball,” Kwiatkowski said. “And she’s a super encouraging teammate, which is really nice.”

The Spartans have Stonewall and Vincent Massey on their half of the bracket, tipping off at Massey at 2:40 p.m. The other side features Winkler’s Garden Valley and Dauphin at Crocus Plains at 2:40, then the Plainsmen and MBCI Spartans at 4:20 p.m. The consolation semifinals are today at 6 o’clock, and the A-side playoffs are all on Saturday.

The NIT boys’ event runs concurrently, with three pools of three. The teams play two games each day, being power-pooled based on Friday’s performances.

The three Brandon schools host games today at 1 and 7:40 p.m.


» Twitter: @thomasmfriesen

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