One player has basketball in her genes.

The other player has an unquenchable thirst to get better on the court every single day.

Together, the sophomore standouts are helping push Lancaster Country Day’s team not only into the playoffs but, in less than a year from now, into the Lancaster-Lebanon League.

Say hello to Ashanti Duncan and Kaela Stankiewicz, and they’ve helped steer the Cougars into the postseason, where Country Day hopes to make some noise — including a return trip to the PIAA playoffs — while building momentum in the program heading into its grand L-L arrival later this year.

“We’re trying to build them up,” said Country Day coach Hilary Waltman, herself a hoops standout at Manheim Central during her prep days. “I definitely think we’re getting there. Our girls are starting to buy in, and I think they’re starting to realize what it takes.”

The Cougars put together a 16-6 regular-season run and earned a spot in the Tri-Valley League semifinals and the No. 6 seed in the upcoming District Three Class 1A bracket. Country Day will take on Harrisburg Christian in a first-round game on Feb. 23.

Duncan, in the low post, and Stankiewicz, running the point, have been key cogs in the Cougars’ attack this winter. Duncan had a breakout freshman campaign in the paint last season, leading the Tri-Valley in rebounding as a freshman. Stankiewicz is a cracker-jack lead guard, full of speed and energy and hops. She can dribble-drive and shoot the J. She can facilitate. She can defend like crazy. She’s one of those players that makes everyone on the floor better.

Like sniper Grace Gardner, defensive stopper Sam Eynon and reliable scorer McKayla Forman, who can all get out and run and make plays in Waltman’s schemes.

“Both of them want to get better,” Waltman said of Duncan and Stankiewicz, who are AAU circuit veterans. “Kaela is in the gym constantly. She’ll ask me, hey Coach, what do you see here? What can I do better? And she’s starting to see that hard work payoff. She’s been opening her mouth a lot more this season.”

Directing traffic. Barking out play-calls. Running the show. Stankiewicz is your prototypical, jackrabbit point guard.

Meanwhile, Duncan has been a matchup nightmare on the blocks. She can gobble up offensive rebounds for stick-backs, and on the defensive end, she can block or alter shots, secure more boards and outlet to Stankiewicz, who is a blur going the other way in transition.

“I try to be as aggressive as I can,” Duncan said. “I try my best to use all my post moves and just get my teammates involved. I love contact. It actually makes me play better. I don’t want it to be easy out there.”

Duncan started playing basketball at age 7, getting pointers from her mom, Destiny Parker-Stewart, who was a prep standout at Reading High before playing collegiately at Millersville University. So Duncan has grown up around the game.

“I never thought I was that good at basketball, actually,” Duncan said. “But I’ve always been kind of taller, so I’m able to get more rebounds. I never thought I’d be the No. 1 rebounder in the league. So that was eye-opening to me.”

“Ashanti will get a little meaner on the boards,” Waltman said, smiling. “We know she has it in her.”

Starting next season, Duncan will be swapping elbows on the blocks with L-L players in a new-look Section Five, which will include reigning state-champ Lebanon Catholic.

“We’re really excited for next season; no more hour and a half bus rides,” Stankiewicz said. “We’re excited to establish some new rivalries. It should be really good for us. I know we’re all excited to play against the L-L teams.”

But that’s next season. This season, Country Day has its sites set on earning some playoff victories.

“We’re athletic, we can push the pace and we can get teams antsy and frustrated with our defense,” Stankiewicz said. “Our best offense is our defense, and that helps us a lot because we’re quick. Sam is always getting steals, and that motivates us.”

“We’re scrappy,” Waltman added. “We don’t always shoot a great percentage, but we try and use our defense to fuel our offense.”

Country Day is hoping that’s the recipe for another extended playoff journey.

“The next month is really crucial for us,” Stankiewicz said. “Especially if we want to go to states.”

Then it’ll be off to the L-L for the Cougars.

“We’re super excited for the L-L,” Duncan said. “The L-L will be great competition and it’ll be a lot tougher, so we’ll all have to be ready to step it up.”

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