DAYTON — Sarah Nielsen is unselfish.
That was the first word her coach Dianne Moser used to describe her contributions to the Tongue River Lady Eagles basketball program.
“The young kids always look up to her, admire her,” Moser continued. “She’ll do anything for you. I never had to yell at her or get mad at her. She’s just a great kid.”
For any regular player, coach or program those are kind words, but considering the Lady Eagles were 28-0, 2A state champions, and that coach is an eight-time title winner at TR, those words carry even more substance.
Nielsen signed her national letter of intent Thursday to continue her basketball career at Northwest College in Powell this fall.
A two-year All-State contributor for the Lady Eagles, Nielsen was the backbone of that undefeated squad. And despite being small for a post player at the collegiate level, Nielsen’s intangibles prevent a coach from reading a book by its cover.
“The biggest thing was when she came out to play with our kids,” Lady Trappers coach Janis Beal said Thursday afternoon, visiting her new player in Dayton. “She’s a little bit undersized, but she’s strong and she’s quick. My post players, one was All-Region last year, and she made the comment, ‘coach, you’ve got to get her.'”
“She just really played well, and the team just enjoyed playing with her.”
Beal did get her, perhaps stealing her from rival Sheridan College and coach Frank McCarthy, who also recruited Nielsen. The TR senior said she chose Northwest after she connected well with Beal and enjoyed her visit to Powell.
“We’re excited to get her, to get someone from the program here (Tongue River) which definitely is a proven program that knows how to win,” Beal continued. “That was proven last year.”
Her single season field goal totals last season (179-330, 54 percent) and points ranked second and third respectively in school history.
She nearly averaged a double-double, 15 points and nine rebounds, and defensively she was the best inside player in arguably every game she played during the TR run, helping her squad smother the opposition, winning all of those 28 games by at least 10 points.
Nielsen led the team in scoring and rebounding, and while she may not have always done so vocally, she was their leader.
“She’s a silent leader,” Moser said. “She’s real quiet but she works hard.
“I hope she [Beal] gets a little bit of aggressiveness out of her as far as wanting to take the ball to the hoop more instead of kicking it back out because she’s a tremendous free throw shooter, too,” Moser added.
Nielsen finished third among Lady Eagles all-time scorers with 1,092 points and is sixth in rebounding with 651 career boards.
“She’s a little bit undersized for the post, but she’s always played bigger than that,” Moser said. “She’s strong, her arms are long, she rebounds well.”
Her accolades are many, and aren’t just found on the hardwood. She considered playing volleyball after high school but decided on basketball halfway through the season.
“I realized that I had a little more fun playing basketball,” Nielsen said. “I felt like I would be more capable of playing further in basketball than I would in volleyball.”
“She’s going to enjoy it, both sides are,” Moser ensured. “I think she’s still untapped, think she’s got some room to improve.”
While Moser lauded her post player, Nielsen admitted she wouldn’t be where she is without her coach’s help.
“She pushed me every day in practice,” Nielsen said. “She got on me when I wasn’t playing my best, and it kind of got to me so I knew when I needed to step it up. She did that all the time and that’s what helped.”
Nielsen’s parents are and Michelle and Jeff. While Nielsen said she is unsure what she wants to study, but was considering going into the health field and possibly pursuing a minor in art.