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South’s Kriebel shows toughness on and off the court

Dean Kriebel cannot attend his daughter Lacey’s basketball games. Yet he is beside Lacey every game.

Lacey, a South Williamsport freshman, literally can hear her father encouraging her while she plays. Dean is battling cancer and his weakened immune system prevents him from attending these games but he remains a part of every shot and/or play Lacey makes during what has been quite a successful debut season.

“I really want to dedicate my season to him,” Lacey said. “I can hear him when I’m out there, telling me to go after the rebounds and things like that. He’s always helped me. I want to play for him and show everyone everything he’s taught me.”

Like her dad, Lacey is fighting on.

It all happened so fast.

Less than two months ago Dean, a former Lock Haven standout and professional basketball player, was hiking up mountains, hunting and enjoying his active life. Two weeks later he was fighting for that same life. His calcium numbers shot through the roof and his kidney function was down to 21 percent as doctors administered dialysis.

A few days later, Dean was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma B. That was the bad news. The good news is the cancer was caught early and Dean’s prognosis is promising. He finished the second of six rounds of chemotherapy last week and his calcium and kidney numbers are normal again.

As all this was playing out, Lacey was beginning her scholastic basketball career. Both Dean and his wife Amy starred at Lock Haven and basketball literally is in the family blood. Dean and Amy coached Lacey, and several of her current teammates, for multiple years and Lacey was excited to carry on the family tradition as the preseason started. Then everything changed.

Seeing one’s father, a hero, battling cancer can be tough for anyone, let alone a 14-year-old. The thing is, Lacey has not changed. Through it all all, she has stayed the same upbeat, hard-working, selfless player. She has started every game, helped South go 8-1 and remain undefeated in Mid-Penn Conference play. She also is averaging 10.7 points per game.

“Lacey is showing maturity beyond her years. It is remarkable how she has been able to remain focused and completely committed to helping her team during this time,” South coach Justin Marnon said. “Although I am sure this is constantly on her mind, she has shown up every day without missing a single practice or game and given all she has.”

As so much adversity surrounded her, Lacey played her first high school game a month ago against St. John Neumann. Dean watched from home and Lacey provided the inspiration, scoring 13 points, grabbing eight rebounds and making four steals as South won, 50-31.

Lacey can tell her dad things, write a note or sign a card to show appreciation. But basketball player to basketball player, she knew this was the best way to offer a tribute. And she has continued providing one every game since as Dean watches either via live streams or on an IPad.

“It’s emotional not being there, but watching her play, I’m so proud,” Dean said. “She had the weight of the world on her shoulders, not knowing what was going to happen and for her to play the way she did was awesome.”

That is how Lacey describes her teammates as well. Upon describing her fellow Mounties, Lacey became emotional. This is her second family and all her sisters are rallying around Lacey. That has provided her an extra lift on and off the court.

“I want to thank my teammates through this hard time,” Lacey said. “They’ve been so nice to me.”

Practices and games with those friends provide an escape. Whatever else is going on when Lacey steps on the court she can forget it, let go, be a teenager and have fun. The whole team is having fun these days and Lacey is a big reason why.

Joining a defending Mid-Penn champion with three starters back, the 5-foot-10 combo guard has consistently filled the stat sheet. This past week she made 7 of 10 3-pointers in victories against Warrior Run and Sullivan County.

Her height and range make Lacey a tough matchup and she can be as potent shooting outside as she is attacking the basket. She has made a big and immediate impact, helping South remain unbeaten in league play.

And after every game, Lacey and her father watch the games together. It is a former pro who earned a tryout with the 1990 Atlantic Division champion Philadelphia 76ers helping his daughter improve. It also is some powerful bonding time.

“After every game we watch film and he will point out what I need to work on,” Lacey said. “He’s so cool. He knows so much. He knows everything. If I have a question, he always has an answer to help me.”

Dean often provided his teams answers, first starring at Whitehall in Allentown before becoming Lock Haven’s all-time leading scorer by the time he graduated. The 6-foot-8 forward then played in the ABA, the USBL, where he won a championship with the Philadelphia Spirit, the CBA and overseas in Cypress. His performance in the prestigious Philadelphia Baker League drew the Sixers’ attention and Kriebel spent a few weeks banging around with legend Charles Barkley, Rick Mahorn and Manute Bol, among others.

Dean and Amy love basketball but they never pushed Lacey toward playing. She fell in love with the game on her own and, in such a time of need, basketball again is a link which pulls this close-knit family even tighter.

Lacey helped South overcome a nine-point third-quarter deficit in last Monday’s victory against Warrior Run. She drained for 3-pointers and encountered her first box-and-one defense. Considering everything else going on, those challenges were easy.

Dean’s fight goes on and both he, family and friends are confident he will win. Lacey will continue helping him pull through the way he has helped her all these years. Together, they make a formidable combination.

Lacey, an honor student with a near-perfect grade point average, said her dream is to someday play Division I college basketball. Time will tell if that dream becomes reality, but no scholarship can measure her character. She is every bit her father’s daughter and that alone says a whole lot.

“This is a moment that transcends basketball and teaches us all about the importance of the things that really matter like faith and family,” Marnon said. “We couldn’t be more proud of Lacey and it has nothing to do with what happens on the court.”

AROUND THE AREA: Jersey Shore is in the hunt to host a first-round District 4 Class AAAA playoff game and played lockdown defense in a 34-23 win against Mifflinburg. The young Bulldogs (5-5) allowed just 13 points during the first three quarters and built a 24-7 halftime lead. Devon Walker, Peyton Dincher and Jocelyn McCracken combined for 21 points … St. John Neumann forward Sheiana Tutler collected double-doubles in consecutive games against Benton and Northwest, totaling 34 points and 27 rebounds in those games. She also blocked a remarkable 13 shots against Benton. Gigi Parlante grabbed 29 rebounds in those games and has pulled down at least 14 boards in five straight games … Bucktail senior Julie Green grabbed her 500th career rebound in a 34-32 loss at Benton. Green is second on the program’s all-time rebounding list and is averaging 11 per game this season … Canton (7-5) won twice last week and Kendall Kitchen was a big reason why scoring 29 points and adding 10 assists in victories against North Penn-Liberty and Cowanesque Valley. Aislyn Williams added 10 assists and Molly Ward pulled down 23 rebounds … Central Mountain (5-6) also has won two straight and freshman Taylor Doyle has scored 28 points in those games. Kiahna Jones scored a season-high 14 points and Mia Kopysciansky made five steals in a 42-22 win against Midd-West … Wellsboro snapped a five-game losing streak and defeated rival North Penn-Mansfield, 40-25 as Emma Coolidge and Chloe Brandenburg combined for 22 points. Payton Chapel scored a career-high 18 for NP-Mansfield.

Chris Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse

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