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Grand Rapids C.C. girls basketball team carries on after tragedy, defeats rival

By: Brian VanOchten, December 22, 2014, 5:36 pm



Grand Rapids – The entire Grand Rapids Catholic Central girls basketball team stepped onto its home court Tuesday night for a matchup against arch rival Grand Rapids Christian with heavy hearts.

Paula McNeely, the mother of senior Shannon McNeely, lost her valiant 13-year fight against brain cancer on Saturday. So a sluggish start by the Cougars, ranked No. 3 in Class B, was expected. It was part of a grieving process that brought the Cougars closer together in a 60-23 victory.

“We started kinda slow, didn’t we?” Catholic Central coach Trevor Hinshaw said of a 1-for-9 shooting effort from the field to start the contest. “It was a really emotional week for our team and our kids.

“There was a lot of emotion throughout the game. I thought it really impacted us at the start,” he added. “But then we settled down and just played.”

The result proved to be a fitting tribute to Paula McNeely, 54, who was diagnosed with brain cancer Sept. 11, 2001.

“We have had a tough week since we had that loss,” said senior point guard Bri Spica, who led the Cougars with 13 points, including three 3-point field goals. “We just figured tonight we were gonna come together and play as a family.

“If we won or lost, we just wanted to give our effort for (Shannon). We’re always there for her.”

Catholic Central (3-0) hit its stride with an 11-2 run to complete the first quarter.

Despite having just 10 players, four of whom are sophomores, the Cougars showed why they’re a state title contender. C.C. stretched its advantage to 32-15 at halftime, 48-19 after three quarters and maintained that margin with its bench on the court for much of the final quarter.

The entire bench stood and applauded the effort of McNeely as she came off the court with a few minutes left in regulation.

“It helped a lot because this week has been the hardest week of my life,” McNeely said of having the routine of basketball practices and games to comfort her during such a difficult time. “I know my mom would want me playing out here. She always supported the team, and the team gave her support.

“My coaches have been there to support me, and I couldn’t thank them enough. They got me through this week.”

Next for the Cougars is a Christmas tournament and a challenging conference schedule. Their performance against Christian (3-1), ranked No. 3 in Class A, made a huge statement about their Class B title hopes this statement.

“They’re talented, hard-working, selfless and a pleasure to coach. It’s a great group of kids,” Hinshaw said. “We are blessed, definitely, with what we have. We expected a close game. If we play them again, it very well might be.”

He emphasizes it’s still just the beginning of what has the potential to be a special season.

“I think we have a chance to be playing at a high level at the end of the year,” Hinshaw said. “We have to continue to strive every day in practice to get better, but I think we’ve got a chance. I think tonight we proved that.”

Sophomore center Kyra Bussell scored 12 points, sophomore forward Sophia Karasinski had 11 points, sophomore shooting guard Myka Cromwell had seven and sophomore backup point guard Shaniya Huggins had six.

“I think we can be all right,” Spica said. “We have a lot of strength at every different position. We have a strong team; I think we can go far.”

Senior Kortney Deurloo led Christian with seven points.