Nieslanik cousins share a special bond through basketball
The Nieslanik name is synonymous with ranching here in the Roaring Fork Valley, but since the early 1980s, that name has also gone hand-in-hand with high school athletic success.
Starting with Tim Nieslanik playing on the state champion Roaring Fork High School football team in the early ’80s, as well as Karen (Nieslanik) Crownhart playing on the state champion girls basketball teams in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a long string of Nieslaniks have etched their name in Rams’ history.
Now, there are five Nieslanik cousins playing together for the Roaring Fork Rams’ girls basketball team under the direction of Head Coach Jade Bath. Together, the Nieslanik cousins — senior Megan Nieslanik, junior Kendall Bernot, sophomore Emily Broadhurst, freshman Lily Nieslanik and freshman Letey Crownhart — helped create a family culture for the Rams’ program. This season, the Rams reached the regional bracket of the 3A girls state basketball playoffs as the No. 30 seed, where they’ll take on No. 3 St. Mary’s on Friday night.
Kendall, Emily, Lily and Letey are the granddaughters of Paul and Celia Nieslanik, while Megan is the granddaughter of John and Theresa Nieslanik and the late Cecil Nieslanik.
Megan is the daughter of Mike and Lisa Nieslanik; Lily is the daughter of Tim and Laura Nieslanik; Emily is the daughter of Chris and Tami (Nieslanik) Broadhurst; and Letey is the daughter of Kelly and Karen Crownhart. And Kendall Bernot is the daughter of Mike and Stacey Bernot. Stacey (Patch) Bernot was taken in by Paul and Celia Nieslanik following the death of her mother, Loretta, and sister, Brenda, in a car accident more than 31 years ago.
Now, all five Nieslanik cousins share the same blue, gold and white uniforms of the Rams, helping the growing program develop a family-like environment.
And, for the first time in six years, both the Roaring Fork girls and boys basketball teams have advanced to the regional round of the 3A state playoffs.
“You want to build a family in this type of environment, and you want everyone in this program to feel like a family,” Bath said prior to a recent practice at RFHS. “Having five girls that are part of a family helps set that tone and makes it easier for the rest of the program. It rubs off of everyone here. Whether you’re a Nieslanik or not, everyone in this program is close. It’s a small school and a small community, so everyone in our program has had a mom, dad, sibling or cousin who’s played here, so we’re starting a tradition.”
Bath helped expand that tradition during a game last month in Carbondale.
Although Lily and Letey weren’t on the varsity roster for the full season like Megan, Kendall and Emily, the two freshmen earned varsity jerseys down the stretch of the 2017-18 season, allowing Bath to suit up all five together on Megan’s Senior Night against the Aspen Skiers on Feb. 17. The Rams dominated, turning in a 42-10 win, and the five cousins took the court together at the end of the third quarter for roughly two minutes.
“That was more for Paul, because he wanted to see all of his grandkids and other family members on the court together in a game,” Bath said. “It was a special momentum for him because it’s one of the only times he’ll get a chance to see all five together, and I know all the parents were excited. It all goes back to the Roaring Fork tradition with family and athletics.”
While the momentum was special for the Nieslaniks, Crownharts, and Broadhursts, Bath was careful to not make it all about the family, as the second-year head coach limited their on-court time together.
Unfortunately, the cousins weren’t able to put any points on the board, but the experience gained and the memories created was something the girls will look back on and remember with happiness.
“Getting to experience this at the varsity level is the best part about this entire situation,” Bernot said. “You don’t get to experience playing varsity basketball with four of your cousins everyday. It took me a minute to realize we were all on the court together because we’d never done that before in a game. It was pretty special to me, because it showed that we’re the Nieslaniks and we’re a family; we all play basketball and we love it.”
“It was really fun, and I knew it would be one of my last chances to play with them,” Megan Nieslanik said. “Getting a chance to play with all four cousins together on the court will go down as my favorite memory from basketball.”
Following the game against Aspen, the time together in the Roaring Fork program for the five cousins started to wind down. A loss to Cedaredge in the first round of the 3A district tournament seemed like the end of the season, but the Rams were granted one last chance on Sunday when the 3A regional playoff brackets were released. The Rams came in at No. 30, giving Roaring Fork — and the five cousins — one last chance to play basketball together again in a competitive setting.
“Finding out that we were heading to regionals was amazing,” Megan Nieslanik said. “I’m not shocked, but I’m really proud of every single person on this team. Plus, it means I get at least one more week to practice and play with these girls, including my cousins.”
“When I got the text that we were going to regionals, I was super excited,” Bernot said. “But then it hit me that this might be it for me when it comes to being able to play basketball with Megan. I want her to have the best game possible, and I want her to always remember the experience of going to regionals with this group.”
The Rams will hit the road Thursday afternoon for the trip to St. Mary’s in Colorado Springs, where they’ll tip off at 7 p.m. Friday night. Meanwhile, the No. 13 Roaring Fork boys square off against Colorado Academy at Platte Valley, also on Friday.
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