FARMINGDALE — To help make the transition to a new coach smooth and lay the foundation for the future, Hall-Dale first-year coach Jarod Richmond knew he would need his seniors to buy into his plan.

Perhaps the most important investors of all — particularly because Richmond places such an emphasis on defense — were twin sisters Dani and Thea Sweet, who are two of the top two-way guards in the Mountain Valley Conference.

“Those two have been a big part of it,” Richmond said. “They lead the way, and they’re just great young women on top of all of their athletic skills.”

“They’ve been such tremendous leaders for this basketball team this year. Everything we’ve been through, they’ve always been a constant,” he added.

Winning has pretty much been a constant for the Sweets in their favorite sport, soccer, where both have earned multiple all-conference and all-state honors. They’ve also enjoyed success in basketball, reaching the tournament in each year of their varsity careers, as well as their spring pastimes, track (Dani) and tennis (Thea).

Some seniors who have built such impressive athletic resumes might be hesitant to go all-in on a rebuilding season, but the Sweets know an opportunity to grow and help others grow when they see one.

“It’s definitely harder, but we’re learning as leaders,” Thea said. “It’s a learning year. I think we’re improving throughout the season.”

“Dani and I try to create an environment where everybody feels comfortable,” she added. “We want a learning environment and a positive one, at that, and so we’re doing the best we can to set a great example for people coming up.”

Their younger teammates would be wise to follow their examples, although it may be hard for them to keep up. Few athletes bring more energy and enthusiasm to the court.

“They just have so much energy,” Richmond said. “They both play close to 32 minutes a night and they don’t ever seem to be tired at the end of it.”

They often wear out Hall-Dale’s opponents instead. The Sweets are relentless at the defensive end. Though just 5 feet tall, Richmond doesn’t hesitate assigning either one defend much bigger opponents because of their speed, strength, stamina and smarts.

“Their quickness and their court awareness is really, really good,” he said. “I have no fear putting either Dani or Thea on the best player on the other team, even if they’re giving up a foot to them, because they’re just so quick with their hands and they get to the right places.”

As Dani puts it, they are so active at the defensive end because, on the court or off, they just can’t seem to stand still.

“We feel like we’re contributing more when we’re moving around doing something rather than just a slower pace. We feel more part of it,” Dani said.

There are few more disruptive forces at the defensive end than the Sweets. Dani and Thea rank fourth and fifth, respectively in the MVC in steals, combining for over seven per game.

While both have been making their mark as defenders for most of their careers. This season, they’ve also become more integral parts of the offense.

“Losing one of our top scorers, Nicole Pelletier (to graduation), we as seniors felt like we should step up and be more aggressive offensively as well as defensively, and just step up into that bigger role in leadership,” Dani said.

Thea has taken on more of Pelletier’s point guard duties and usually brings the ball up and runs the offense. She’s fourth in the conference averaging nearly four assists per game. Dani ranks seventh in the MVC scoring 11 points per game and has a knack for getting to the free throw line.

The sisters have the same mantra on offense as defense — attack. To counteract their aggressiveness and quickness, opponents are playing more zone against the Bulldogs this year.

“It’s been really frustrating trying to find the lanes and find the open spaces and conduct something that’s creating more opportunities to get closer to the basket, instead of just taking those outside shots,” Thea said.

Richmond trusts the Sweets to make the right decision and wants one of them to have the ball in their hands at crunch time.

“They’re so composed,” he said. “Everyone around them could be freaking out and their could be such a tense situation, and the message they continue to send to everybody is ‘Settle down and relax. We’ve got this.’ I’ve never seen them overwhelmed.”

Of course, being twins, if one does get overwhelmed, the other will sense it immediately.

“When one is struggling, the other will pick up and do the things her sister can do,” Richmond said. “If Dani is having an off night, Thea will kind of be that leader and vice versa. It’s very unique. They’re very connected.”

“We just feel it and we just pick it up,” said Dani, who was recently accepted to Goucher College in Maryland, where she plans to study community organizing and play soccer. “But as a team we do that, too.”

“When we’re working together and we’re both on the same page, it’s really amazing,” said Thea, who has applied early decision to Connecticut College and hopes to study international relations and economics and play soccer. “We have a natural connection that we can use to our advantage.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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