When I was tasked with looking back at my favorite thing I've written over the past year, picking just one thing wasn't easy to do. My first year and then some in Helena has been really awesome and one of the best parts has been getting to cover Paige and Dani Bartsch, two twin sisters who are both dynamic, future D-1 athletes. Talents like these don't come around often and this article looks at just how rare they are. - Chris Peterson
Editor's note: This was published in March prior to the state basketball tournaments where the Bruins were named co-champions. This fall, they also went on to win a third consecutive AA state volleyball championship.
HELENA — It's hard to find enough superlatives to describe the unique abilities of twin sisters Dani and Paige Bartsch.
They are two-time state champions in volleyball, each committed to be Division I athletes and soon enough, they will be All-State selections in more than one sport and potentially, multi-sport state champions.
Paige and Dani are also just juniors and even though they each have a resume most would be envious of, their dominance at Helena Capital, is far from over.
"Those two are once-in-a-lifetime type players at the high school level," Capital girls basketball coach Katie Garcin-Forba said. "They are incredibly athletic, they learn so fast and they are some of the best teammates. To have all that in one package and to have two of them, it's crazy. On a regular basis, we will look at each other as coaches go 'Oh my gosh, how did they do that?' We are just in awe over what they are able to do and then you remember, they are just juniors."
For most high school athletes, the junior year is normally when colleges start to express interest and the recruiting process begins. But Paige and Dani aren't most athletes and before their junior seasons even began in their preferred sports, volleyball for Paige and basketball for Dani, each Bartsch was a D-1 commit.
Paige, the 6-foot-4, Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year, committed to Boise State and plans to sign with the Broncos in November. Around the same time, Dani, who committed last fall before basketball season, will put pen to paper with the Lady Griz.
"I struggle to think of other athletes at Capital that would have the opportunities like Paige and Dani, to compete at the Division-I level in two sports," Garcin-Forba said. "And for them to be sisters, and juniors, to be recruited for both volleyball and basketball at the (Division I) level with the opportunity to play either, it's pretty rare."
But that doesn't mean the recruiting stops. In fact, when you are as talented as the Bartsch twins, it never really does, especially not with how dominant Paige has been on the basketball court recently.
"Coach Shannon Schweyen (Lady Griz) has mentioned basketball to me a couple times," Paige said. "We are family friends so she just kind of says that to me jokingly."
Looking at how Paige has dominated recently, it probably wasn't a joke.
Following a near triple-double (12 points, 9 rebounds, 8 blocks) against Helena High Feb. 22, Paige recorded the first-known triple-double in the history of Capital girls basketball last Friday against Glacier, as she finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks.
Yet, she wouldn't be alone in the Bruin history books for long. The very next day, in Capital's game against Flathead, Dani matched the feat, doing it with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
"I actually called our old coach and it's the first time we have had a triple-double," Garcin-Forba said. "Kenize Johnston flirted with it a couple of times when she was here, but to never have one, then to get two in back-to-back games, it's amazing."
Amazing is certainly one word used to describe the Bartsch twins, simply because their size, skill and athleticism is so unique.
However, even at 6-foot-4, it took Paige a minute to find her comfort level on the basketball court, not like with volleyball, which was a perfect fit at a young age.
"My mom played volleyball in college and my sisters both played growing up and once I started playing, I loved it," Paige said. "I love playing basketball but I think I am farther along in volleyball."
An injury that forced her to miss her freshman season didn't help. Neither did the fact that Paige wasn't a huge fan of contact.
"At the beginning of year she talked about how she didn't want to touch them (opposing players) and how she hates being physical," Dani said. "We got after her and when she is physical, it shows and now, she has been a lot more physical. Instead of getting bullied, she's the bully."
It took some time, but the bullying Paige finally emerged, full throat, in the first crosstown game against Helena High.
With the Bruins trailing by 10 headed into the fourth quarter, Paige, along with Dani, took over. Capital rallied and won the game in overtime, thanks in part to Paige, who finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks and three steals.
"It's about confidence really," Paige said. "My teammates helped me a lot and that (crosstown) showed me how many blocks I could get. It kind of challenged me and I guess it sparked something."
It sparked something for Dani too.
While she wasn't as effective offensively in the first go-around with the Bengals, she was instrumental in the 15 consecutive stops Capital got on defense to complete the comeback and all year long, she's been one of the best two-way players in the state.
Then, in the rematch with the Bengals, she scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds, which was just a prelude to her own triple-double.
"Coach Katie (Garcin-Forba) and my teammates have been telling me to shoot more and just to be more assertive," Dani said. "Just being confident in my shot has helped. I have spent countless hours in the gym, so I should be."
As naturally gifted as the Bartsch twins are, they don't take their talents for granted and each is dedicated, honing their craft nearly year round. But for Dani, doing the extra stuff, has always been easier with basketball.
"I'm better at basketball and I've just been doing it longer," Dani said. "I also find it easier to workout to. Volleyball, I don't know exactly how to practice it myself. But basketball, I love to come in and just shoot."
Just like with basketball, Dani is a natural at volleyball too, even if she got her start a bit reluctantly.
"When I first started volleyball, like in fourth grade, I hated it," Dani said. "I wouldn't touch a volleyball. Then, about sixth grade, I was at one of Paige's tournaments and another team needed a player, so my mom made me go play and I loved it."
Two state championships later, it seems that playing was a good choice. And as similar as Paige and Dani are, they also have their differences, starting with their favorite sports.
"I think it's really cool that Paige loves volleyball and that's her sport," Garcin-Forba said. "And Dani loves it, but basketball is her sport, so they are two great athletes and they found their identities through two different sports."
However, sports aren't the only difference, according to teammate Mashayla O'Malley.
"Paige is a jokester. She's the team clown," O'Malley said. "Dani just puts up with it. She's more serious and she will get mad at Paige and she will just laugh, so they are very humorous too."
However they are different, when Dani and Paige are on the floor together, dominant is one word that suits both—perfectly
"I know if I ever get beat, which I am not trying to get beat, but if I ever do, I know that Paige is there to stop them, intimidate them or swat them," O'Malley said. "And for volleyball too. Paige would always get that block."
This season, Paige has been just as dominant on the basketball floor, averaging 11.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.8 blocks, while Dani checks in at 11.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, two steals and a block per game.
Paige also set the school single-game record for blocks with 10 last Saturday and the season block record with 70.
"To see how Paige has grown over the course of a year, is just insane," Garcin-Forba said. "Her and Dani have a really special connection. Dani is always looking to get the ball into her and whenever Paige scores, Dani is one of the most excited for her. Off the court, they will bicker and they are very different. But on the court, they are each other's biggest fans."
Paige and Dani share many of the same traits and talents, but they also have many of the same goals, such as winning a state championship in basketball.
That's next on their to-do-list and that journey starts this week, at the Western AA Divisional in Missoula and with a top-four finish, it will continue for No. 1 Capital next week in Bozeman at the state tournament.
For Dani, it would be the realization of a lot of hard work.
"We spend at least 10 hours a week in the gym working on both sports year round," She said. "So I would say winning those (basketball and volleyball) state championships would feel like that work paid off."
For her sister, it goes beyond what she even imagined.
"Honestly, when I was younger, I just wanted to get a state championship, just one," Paige said. "Now we have two in volleyball. I just think it would be crazy and so cool if we got one for basketball too. I just never pictured that would be possible."
When it comes to the Paige and Dani, the word impossible, is about the only superlative that doesn't fit.