Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bisons chasing playoff berth

Rookie Balasko key performer for Manitoba

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For Allison Balasko, there's not been a bigger series in her university career than this weekend's games.

But then again, the games do tend to get bigger every week when you are a starting forward in your rookie season at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level.

Six points out of a playoff spot with eight games left in the season, the 4-12 Bisons host the 4-14 Lethbridge Pronghorns for a pair of games this weekend in Canada West conference play.

"Some other teams might plateau at the beginning of the season but for us, the season has been kind of a mountain and we've just been climbing away," said Balasko, 18, whose future career aspirations include sports medicine.

Technically, Balasko has been a starting forward for better than half of her university career -- 10 games of the 16 she has played this season.

"I knew coming in that we had a young team and there were opportunities available so I'm really excited about it (starting role)," said Balasko, a 5-foot-11 player who is averaging 4.5 rebounds per game and led the team in rebounds in three games this season.

A graduate of the Collège Jeanne Sauvé Olympiens, Balasko came to the Bisons through their junior program.

"She's a multi-sport athlete, a high-level field hockey player who was recruited in both basketball and volleyball. She's just a really dynamic and interesting young person," said Bisons head coach Pam Danis. "She also excels in the classroom and she's very community-conscious so she's been a great addition to the program."

Danis said her team is young with six first-year players but has received strong leadership from the team's scoring leaders -- lone fifth-year player Kayla Klassen (averaging 12.6 points per game) and fourth-year Mubo Ilelaboye (10.3 ppg).

The Bisons have also recently been starting rookie guards Sheree Carmona-Galdamez and Stephanie Gill and second-year Vanessa De Vries. As the team chases a playoff berth this weekend, guard Whitney Lodge-Zaparnick is expected to see more playing time after recovering from an injury.

"The reality is that we control our own destiny and we have right from the get-go," Danis said. "If you focus on the little things that make you be the best you can be the other things will take care of themselves, whether its winning or points."

Last weekend in Edmonton, the Bisons won their first road game of the season with a 78-76 defeat of the Alberta Pandas (14-4).

In that victory, Manitoba had five players scoring in double digits including Klassen with 15 points and Balasko with 12. The Bisons also had a good start, jumping to an early lead.

"We have to just grind it out, that's one of our coach's favourite sayings, get those wins and try to make the playoffs," Balasko said.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2011 C2

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