Ariel Braker has never forgotten being a part of Grosse Pointe North’s Class A girls basketball championship team in 2008, but a couple of happenings in recent months have made her reflect even more on that title.
The first came in March, when Braker was hired as an assistant coach for the women’s basketball program at the University of Minnesota. That brought a stark reminder of an oopsie when she was on a recruiting visit to Minnesota after the championship and while she was still in high school. having helped the Norse to the title as a sophomore.
“I left my (state championship) ring in the hotel here in Minnesota,” Braker said. “So I needed a new one.”
The second came in June, when Grosse Pointe North won the Division 2 girls soccer title.
Those Norse were coached by Olivia Dallaire, a teammate of Braker’s on the 2008 girls basketball title team.
“It was an interesting full circle moment of 'Wow, it really was that long ago,'” Braker said. “You have someone on your team now leading the school to a state championship in a different sport. It was pretty cool.”
A 6-foot-1 dynamo who could play every position on the court in 2008, Braker had 15 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocked shots in a 58-46 win over East Lansing in the championship game.
That followed a 23-point, 20-rebound performance in a Semifinal win over North Farmington.
Braker was more than just a standout basketball player for North, however.
She was also a member of the volleyball team and an all-state high jumper for the track & field team, and being a three-sport athlete made her high school experience even better.
“It let me take a break from basketball, use other muscles and take my mind off of it,” Braker said. “The ability to be with different people, make different friends, and do different things was very helpful.”
During her senior year in 2010, Braker finished third in the state's Miss Basketball Award voting.
Braker signed to play college basketball at Notre Dame, where she played for legendary head coach Muffet McGraw.
During her tenure with the Fighting Irish, Braker was a part of three teams that won Atlantic Coast Conference championships and advanced to the 2014 national championship game.
After college, Braker decided she wanted to give coaching a try and landed at Western Texas College, a community college in Snyder, Texas.
It was there that the coaching bug really hit her hard.
“Those kids needed a lot of instruction and teaching,” Braker said. “You have to be willing to be patient and teach the game in different ways so it touches everyone. It was a growing year for me, but I was like, ‘I can do this.’ That gave me confidence.”
From there, Braker has gone on to assistant jobs at Lehigh, Oakland, South Dakota and West Virginia before being hired on to first-year head coach Dawn Plitzuweit’s staff at Minnesota this past March.
Braker said that at all of her coaching stops so far, she’s tried to follow Michigan youth teams on the recruiting trail given her familiarity with the state.
She obviously hopes that familiarity will pay dividends in her new role at Minnesota if she needs to mine for talent in Michigan.
“There are some younger kids who are up-and-coming who could help,” she said. “I’m excited to get back home and be able to recruit them.”
When she does come back to recruit, it’ll likely join the lost championship ring in Minnesota and soccer success this spring as reminders of that magical ride to a basketball title with the Norse 15 years ago.
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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Braker plays in the 2008 Class A championship game, and at right Braker coaches at University of Minnesota. (Below) Braker drives to the basket; she scored 15 points in the 2008 championship game against East Lansing. (Photos courtesy of the Detroit News and University of Minnesota athletics.)
STAMBAUGH — Danica Shamion has enjoyed plenty of success in track & field throughout her high school athletic career.
The West Iron County senior is also quite successful in basketball.
Shamion joined the 1,000-point club here Jan. 23 while scoring 34 in a 63-60 loss to Norway.
“That really felt good,” she said after last week’s 93-41 win over Bessemer on Senior Night. “I’m glad I was able to do that at home. Although, it would have been even better had we won that game.”
The Wykons scored five in double digits against the Speedgirls, led by senior Siena Stine with 20 points. Junior center Sidney Storti added 17 points, and Shamion finished with 16 points and 17 assists.
“Sidney is a real asset to our team,” Shamion said. “I can see the floor pretty well, and the other girls are doing a pretty good job getting open. This was our last home game. It definitely meant something to us.”
Shamion, an All-Upper Peninsula Division 1-3 first-team selection a year ago, twisted her ankle in a season-opening 47-40 triumph over Iron Mountain and missed the next three games.
West Iron was 1-3 going into the holiday break before getting back on track with a 42-28 victory over Kingsford on Jan. 2. That enabled the Wykons to improve to 4-3 before dropping six of their next seven games.
West Iron, which was 5-9 after dropping a 73-55 decision at Negaunee, had won four in a row prior to Thursday’s 46-44 loss at Calumet. But the Wykons bounced back with a 51-49 win over Ishpeming Westwood on Tuesday to get back to .500 at 10-10.
“We were trying to forge our identity and weren’t hitting our shots (earlier in the season),” Shamion said. “Although, we’ve been playing better defense lately. We’re pretty good one-on-one and usually play man-to-man. We try to run the floor and score in transition.
“Negaunee is probably the best team we’ve seen this year, although Ishpeming and Houghton are also very good and Calumet and Westwood are tough,” she added.
In track & field, Shamion set U.P. Division 2 Finals record in the 200-meter dash (26.34 seconds) and 400 (57.18) last season. She also won the 100 (12.79) and placed second in high jump at 4 feet, 10 inches. She is a three-time Finals champion in all three sprint races.
Shamion also made the all-U.P. Volleyball Dream Team in the fall.
She will continue on the track at Central Michigan University after she graduates from West Iron this spring.
“I didn’t know much about their program, but I was interested in what they had to offer,” she said. “The girls on the team are nice, which is part of the reason why I chose Central. It’s a relief to have that decided.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTOS (Top) West Iron’s Danica Shamion (24) blocks a shot during her team’s game at Ishpeming on Jan. 15. (Middle) Shamion maintains possession of the ball. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)