Plainsmen, Vikings chase upsets at AAAA provincials
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Alanah Gushulak could be the X-factor for the Crocus Plains to end a drought that’s gone on too long.
The six-foot forward and her No. 11-seed Plainsmen take on the sixth-ranked River East Kodiaks in the first round of varsity girls AAAA basketball provincials at Crocus today at 5 p.m.
“Alanah is a big presence down low and that’s something other teams are going to have to worry about,” said Plainsmen head coach Adam Hartman. “… When she gets going, if she can give us 15, 20 points, that going to be a huge boost for our group.
“River East is a strong team with a strong defence. We’re going to need to knock down some shots from the outside the more pressure Alanah inside can put on them and the more pressure Rylee (Wiebe) can put on them … it’s going to open up shots for the rest of our team.”
The Plainsmen haven’t escaped the first round since Tia Coulter led them to the final four in 2011 with her mother, Barb, at the helm. That capped a four-year stretch complete with a provincial gold in 2008 and silver in 2009.
While any team not named the Dakota Lancers will need a miracle to hoist the trophy this year, that opening-round win that’s eluded Hartman since he took over in 2012 is certainly attainable.
The Plainsmen lost 54-36 in their matchup against the Kodiaks back on Dec. 17 but won the rematch 49-47 at the Java Jam on home court one month ago.
“The teams we’ve produced, I’ve felt, are very strong but when you get the 10, 11, 12 seed and you’re playing the 5, 6, 7, it’s tough to compete with the top-end teams of the city,” Hartman said. “This year I feel we’ve competed very well with the teams in the top 10.
“It’s an opportunity for us to go out and prove we belong here. We’re hoping we can put it all together, knock down some shots and get to the Saturday.”
The winner plays the Kilcona Peguis Athletic Conference champion Garden City Gophers on Saturday at 5 p.m. They’re the only team River East lost to in league play, both in the regular season and zone final.
The Plainsmen lean on Wiebe to do anything from ignite their transition offence to score in the half-court and guard anyone on the other end.
Five-foot-two point guard Alyanna Gungon runs the offence but isn’t afraid to pull open three-pointers or slash into the paint.
On the other side, University of Winnipeg Wesmen commit Jennifer Kallon and Betty Girmay comprise one of the top two-headed attacks in the province.
But high-pressure games tend to favour the team who gets to the rim and takes higher-percentage shots. Since nerves can lead to more misses, second-chance points are at a premium.
Gushulak thrives in games like that, as a double-double machine who can protect the rim and make opponents settle for outside shots.
“I like it, especially when you block someone that’s known to be really good at going up, it’s really nice to shut them down. It boosts my ego,” Gushulak said.
“When I block someone, stop someone from going in the paint and hear the bench screaming, it’s just so exciting.”
Crocus rolled with a deeper bench than many teams earlier in the season but shortened it in a few games, like the win over River East. Now that it’s do-or-die, he’ll likely assign more minutes to the most experienced kids.
In those situations this season, the bench has often been more animated than the players on the floor in big moments. They’ve all bought into their roles.
“Even though we don’t have the same playing time or same scoring … it still feels like everyone’s excited. When I go on the bench, I’m excited for them,” Gushulak said.
“… We don’t play for ourselves, we play for the team.”
Brandon’s contribution to the 12-team boys’ draw feels much more like a gracious host.
The Vincent Massey Vikings are the 12th seed and play the No. 5 Vincent Massey Trojans of Winnipeg at 3 p.m.
Head coach Brett Nohr is equally excited to host the first round for the first time in his 17 years at Massey as he is realistic about the lopsided matchup.
“It’s fun. The kids are looking forward to playing in their home gym but we know where we are, we know who we are and it’s going to be a tough game for us,” Nohr said.
“We have to be so precise on the defensive end and we got to win every rebound. As soon as they get any rebounding advantage on us, we’re over. They’ll take off and go.
“We play them five on five, we got a good shot but they get anything in transition, it’s going to be a long night.”
The Vikings finished 12th in the Brandon Sun Spartan Invitational and fifth at Garden Valley’s event in January.
They reached the top three at the Neelin Invitational Tournament but otherwise haven’t played outside of the Brandon High School Basketball League.
Massey went 2-2 in the regular season, beat Crocus in the semifinal and fell 2-1 in the best-of-three final to Neelin.
The Trojans won the BSSI and fell in two tourney finals to No. 1 Sturgeon Heights.
The winner faces No. 4 Churchill on Saturday at 3 p.m.
The one thing the Vikings have on their side is size. Not height, per se, but they’re basically a portion of their powerhouse football team and can frustrate teams with physicality. Defensive lineman Will Pearson and offensive linemen Scott Sherb and Carter Moore — technically listed as forwards — join Brannigan Ferland as immovable obstructions in the paint.
“Definitely just having our bigs down low, they love the contact. They just feast on it,” said senior guard Aaron Pasaporte.
“Teams from Winnipeg, they don’t know anything about us so we’re coming in almost like a secret. That and our energy we’ve had for the past few weeks, I think we’ve got a shot.”
» Twitter: @thomasmfriesen