AP NEWS

Sisters play together on University of South Dakota team

March 23, 2019
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Allison Arens (10) and Monica Arens (11) pose for a photo at Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion, S.D., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (Briana Sanchez/Argus Leader via AP)

VERMILLION, S.D. (AP) — A week before Allison Arens’ senior day at the University of South Dakota, an assistant coach noted that she is one of the few college athletes who has played four years with a sibling who isn’t a twin.

The 5-foot-10 guard hadn’t thought of her unique opportunity in those terms, but realized he was probably right.

One of six siblings, Allison grew up on a farm in Crofton, Nebraska, a town of fewer than 700 located 14 miles south of Yankton. She played alongside her oldest sister, Bridget, for two seasons with the Coyotes.

When Bridget graduated as the program’s all-time leader in games played with 137 in 2017, Allison welcomed their younger sister, Monica, to the program, the Argus Leader reported.

“It’s hard to even say what it would be like without one of them here, because I’ve never experienced it,” Allison said. “It’s been really cool.”

Not surprisingly, the Arens sisters have made the most of their final season together. Allison, the team’s lone senior, is a do-everything guard who will graduate as one of only three players in program history with over 1,300 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists for her career. Monica, a 5-foot-10-inch sophomore, has emerged as one of the team’s key players off the bench, averaging 6.5 points and 4.0 rebounds.

“They helped each other a lot,” said their mother, Joselyn Arens. “They encouraged each other and made each other better.”

Away from the floor, Allison and Monica have been doing their best to take nothing for granted, from the late-night conversations at Allison’s house or Monica’s dorm to the quick trips back to Crofton, where small-town memories still carry meaning.

“Those little moments aside from basketball are ones we’ll miss and cherish a lot,” Allison said.

Monica was one of the first area recruits coach Dawn Plitzuweit scouted when she took over as USD head coach in April 2016.

The third-youngest Arens sister had recently led nearby Crofton to its fifth consecutive state championship, averaging 18 points and seven rebounds as a junior. Plitzuweit had seen her on film and hoped she would attend the Coyotes’ summer team camp.

But Monica couldn’t join her Crofton teammates in Vermillion. She had construction camp.

“What do you mean construction camp? What even is that?” Plitzuweit laughs at the memory. “I didn’t really appreciate how important that was until we visited Monica early in her senior year.”

During that trip to the family farm, the first-year coach saw the shed Monica and Allison had been working on. The two had poured the concrete and were in the process of wiring it, an impressive display which, as Plitzuweit has learned, barely scratched the surface of their unique skill sets.

Allison, who will student-teach for a year in Beresford after graduation, is a talented painter and baker (she makes wedding cakes). Monica drew praise for her willingness to learn and her toughness. She wanted to play football as a youngster — and probably could have, according to her parents.

“There’s so much to them,” Plitzuweit said. “They are so talented in so many different ways.”

Life on the farm helped shape Allison and Monica, both as basketball players and as sisters.

Some chores, like cleaning out a barn or walking a half-mile to feed their 80 rabbits, were conducive to sibling bonding. Others were more competitive.

Their father, Gary Arens, would task them with grabbing and knocking down the baby calves. They would break off into two-person teams, determined to not let their calf get away. It was their little competition, he explained. But their work ethic and the teamwork, they had it at a young age because they did a lot of things together.

“I probably took it for granted back then,” admitted Bridget, who works at the elementary school in Crofton and is an assistant coach at Crofton High, where their youngest sister, Alexis, is a junior. “But a lot of what we did on the farm, it translated to athletics.”

When it came time for Bridget to start looking at colleges, she brought Allison along, telling her younger sister that she had to like wherever she went, because otherwise she wouldn’t go there.

“Bridget led the way by deciding which one we liked,” said Allison of her commitment to USD. “Then Monica followed me.”

Allison played two seasons with Bridget before she graduated and Monica entered the program. As Allison forged an impressive junior campaign, her tough-as-nails younger sister appeared in all 36 games for the Coyotes, averaging 3.2 points in her first season.

“Allison is a great leader, which helps in a lot of things, especially for me,” Monica said. “I was always coming into something new and she was always there to help me out.”

As Monica’s role has expanded in 2018-19, she and Allison have had more opportunity to show off their connection. Allison recognizes the look in her sister’s eye when she wants the ball. Monica knows when her older sister catches her eye then looks away, it usually means a pass is coming her way.

Against North Dakota State in late February, Allison whipped a no-look, cross-court pass to Monica, who caught the pass and drilled an open 3-pointer in one fluid motion. “If Allison’s passing it, I can’t miss it,” said Monica, gently nudging her sister.

Monica admits she had a difficult time adjusting when Allison graduated from Crofton, but she’s doing her best to remain optimistic, citing both previous experience and a group of “really good teammates” who will help make things easier this time around.

“I’m not ready to be playing without a sister again, but I think she’s got a lot of good stuff coming ahead,” she said, turning to Allison. “But I’m not ready to let you go.”

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com