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Defying the odds, Marian continues tournament success

Basketball   | Jeff Dullack

Defying the odds, Marian continues tournament success

 

 

Bloomfield Hills – It’s not often that a team coming off of a second straight state championship feels the need to play with a chip on its shoulder.

But throughout the entire 2015-16 season that’s how Birmingham Marian has played.

Hours after winning their second state championship in as many years in 2015, the Mustangs learned that not only would they be replacing several seniors, but they would also need to replace two of the state’s top underclassmen.

Sisters Bailey Thomas and Samantha Thomas informed their teammates soon after the Class A final that they were moving to Nevada, where they currently play for state power Centennial High School.

With the news, Marian had gone from the early favorites to win a third straight state title in 2016 to a team that many questioned if its two-year run of dominance was over.

Marian coach Mary Cicerone said that with the departure of last year’s senior class along with the Thomas sisters, her team had to keep the next-player-up mentality to fill those voids.

“I’ve been around for so long, I’ve had good teams and some so-so teams,” she said. “We lost probably the best player (Samantha Thomas) in the state of Michigan and she went to Vegas. So we move on, it was a new semester with new kids, you bring them in and you keep plugging away. I get great kids, this group is a great bunch, they are, they are out here to have fun, they’re playing the sport for fun and competition and camaraderie and that’s what they’re getting. They like to win too.”

But even after entering this winter with lower than usual outside expectations, Marian and its players were out to prove their program wasn’t going anywhere.

Elizabeth Grobbel, one of the two seniors on this year’s team and a captain, said that she entered this season looking to take on a leadership role, hoping to lead Marian to more success.

“I came into this season kind of realizing that people would be coming after us because we were state champs and they knew we’d be kind of vulnerable in their opinion,” she said. “But I told my teammates that we were keeping the same standards and same level of excellence. As a captain, I wanted to step up and show them the ropes and I just think everyone was doing a wonderful job. Everyone really embraced the whole mentality that we’re a different team, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to play our hardest, go far in the tournament and make it as great of a run as we can.”

Every step of the way this season, Marian has continued to prove doubters wrong, first with winning a second consecutive Catholic League A-B title on Feb. 21, followed by the Mustangs cruising to their fifth straight district championship last Friday.

One of the standouts from Marian’s 53-24 district final win over Birmingham Seaholm, Hannah Redoute, who scored 21 points in the win, said that she and the rest of the Marian team heard the message from their coach that they needed to prove themselves as a program once again.

“A lot of us did (have a chip on our shoulder),” she said. “Especially our coach was telling us ‘We have to prove everyone wrong, and nobody thinks we can do it. We lost all five starters and you guys have to prove that you can do it and take their place’.”

While this year’s Marian team isn’t the same as last year, where the Mustangs had several blowout wins, it is still finding ways to win.

“We’re working hard to win some games, we’ve won some close games and we’ve lost some,” Cicerone said. “It’s not the major blowouts where I’m thinking ‘Okay, how do I keep my starters in longer without beating them by 30 or 40’. That was fun, but not as fun as coming in here and playing a great game against a great team and beating them pretty handedly.”

With a district title in hand, Marian is still looking for more success and another deep run in this year’s state tournament, hoping to prove more doubters wrong.

Grobbel said that Marian has embraced an underdog type of role throughout the season and now the postseason.

“I think so,” she said. “I think coming in here, people had their doubts and it’s always fun proving they were wrong and showing that we can do this. Coming in as the underdogs, there’s nothing to lose.”

The Mustangs will now look to take another step towards their third straight trip to the Breslin Center when they face St. Clair Shores Lakeview (14-8) on Tuesday in a regional semifinal at Roseville at 7 p.m.