Haille Bujan is doing well to make up for lost time.
The six-foot-three post for the Miles Macdonell Buckeyes varsity girls’ basketball team missed all but four games last season due to injury but Bujan, now in her Grade 11 year, has worked to lead the Buckeyes to a perfect record in the Kilcona Peguis Athletic Conference regular season.
The Buckeyes then dropped the Lord Selkirk Royals 71-48 in the conference’s Tier 1 championship game to secure a spot in the Milk Provincial "AAAA" Basketball Championships, which began March 14 and will culminate in the championship game on March 24.
As the No. 4-ranked team in the province, the Buckeyes had a first-round bye, and were set to face the winner of No. 5 Linden Christian and No. 12 Vincent Massey (Brandon) in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
Bujan, an Anola resident, is averaging 18 points, 11 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 2.2 blocks on the court while posting an 85% average in the classroom. For her excellence in all areas, she was awarded the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association’s Home Run Sports Urban High School Athlete of the Week Award on March 4.
Head coach Karl Schroeder said Bujan’s height is a major asset, as she is learning to use her size to make an impact, especially when rebounding.
"Haille’s a terrific finisher — she gets the ball inside and her rebounding’s very good," said Schroeder, who has coached basketball for 28 years. "She’s got great hands for a big girl and she’s not afraid to be physical."
Schroeder said the latter point is a new development for Bujan, who he said is learning to play "big and strong, not just big." Bujan felt the moment this season that embodied that approach was at the Western Canada High School Redmen Invitational tournament in Calgary, where she earned MVP honours while leading Miles Mac to the title last month.
"She was matched up against very good players, and was just absolutely dominant," Schroeder said. "She performs well in big games."
Bujan injured her kneecap during a practice last season, an injury that kept her out of the lineup for eight weeks, the bulk of the season, returning in time for a league playoff game and a game in the provincials.
Bujan said she was a little tentative to start the year after the "unexpected" setback, but quickly gained steam as the campaign progressed.
"It was hard to get back into the swing of playing," she said. "I didn’t know it until (Schroeder) told me about it, but (the fear of injury) is the reason why I didn’t want to get on the court for a while."
Bujan went to Oakbank for school up until Grade 8, attended John Pritchard for Grade 9, and followed sister Cassie, another athletic phenom, to Miles Mac for Grade 10.
"(In Oakbank), they don’t really teach you sports and it’s not really competitive," she said. "I was looking for a challenge."