Chassell’s Danison, Huhta dominate inside

Chassell’s Sydney Danison challenges Ontonagon’s Ella Menigoz Friday in Painesdale. (Daily Mining Gazette/Bryce Derouin)

PAINESDALE — With a few minutes left in the first half, Brandi Hainault sent Sydney Danison to the scores table. 

Disgruntled fans voiced their concern, and even Danison was unsure of the decision. The senior had three fouls, and subbing her in seemed like a risk, especially in a district championship game. 

“I kind of was thinking, ‘Oh no, I’m probably going to get my fourth and my fifth,” Danison said.

But Hainault didn’t hesitate. The coach knew exactly what she was doing. 

“I have a lot of trust in her and I needed a little bit of a spark,” Hainault said. “I wasn’t planning on keeping her in that long, I just wanted to get a quick basket and pull her.”

And sure enough, Danison subbed in, positioned herself on the low block, caught the entry pass and turned for an easy lay-in off the glass. The bucket gave Chassell a 20-17 lead over Ontonagon and ignited a mini-run to end the half. Chassell went into the locker room up 24-18, before eventually recording a 52-37 win and district championship. 

When Chassell needed to score, Hainault turned to Danison, but she promptly took her back out and went to Chassell’s other post player: Sophia Huhta.

Danison has been one of Chassell’s most reliable players this season and a key component in their 22-1 record. She has also been incredibly efficient during district play — 18 points, 15 rebounds against Baraga, and 20 points, 11 rebounds against Jeffers. But with foul trouble, Hainault couldn’t afford to play her for long stretches. 

So she went to Huhta, who hadn’t scored against Ontonagon in two matchups this season. But Chassell needed her, so Huhta stepped up. 

She finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. 

“That is the great thing with this team, is they really work hard at doing the little things and stepping up when someone else needs the help,” Hainault said. “Tonight, we needed some players to step up and play that role, so I thought it was great that she did it.”

As soon as Danison went back to the bench, Huhta snared an offensive rebound and went up strong for a bucket and a foul, completing the three-point play at the free-throw line. Meanwhile, Danison threw her hands up in celebration. 

“It was kind of tough, but I knew, either way, we were going to pull through, because that is just our team mentality,” Danison said of being on the bench. 

“It is really beneficial having two post players. I think it is good that if one of us is in foul trouble, we can rely on the other one. Like tonight I was in foul trouble, which was kind of brutal, but Sophia is always there to have my back, so I knew even if I did come out, then we would be good either way.”

That mutual trust extends to when the two are playing together as well. Danison said she and Huhta know if one of them misses a shot, the other will be on the weak side for a rebound.

Plus, after guarding each other every day in practice, the duo have learned a thing or two from their counterpart. 

“I have gotten to know how she plays, which helps me playing against anyone taller,” Huhta (5-9) said about Danison (6-2). “I know what could possibly happen, and I’m better prepared for that.”

For Hainault, the dual threat in the post goes beyond being able to sub one in for the other. The two present problems to opponents because they have to gameplan differently for each player. 

“I think they complement each other,” she said. “Sophia is more of a high post, strong, weak-side kind of player, and Sydney is more of a post presence, where she can move a little bit quicker and get that backside because of the height that she has.”

Against Ontonagon, Chassell needed both options, as the two combined for 29 of the team’s 52 points — Danison had 16 to lead the team, and Huhta was second with 13 points. 

Danison also recorded 11 rebounds for her third double-double in as many games. 

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