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In rout of rival Mercy, No. 6-ranked Marian shows off growth that’s made Mustangs a more potent offensive team

By: Matthew B. Mowery, January 18, 2019, 11:15 pm

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Just a quick glance at last year’s Birmingham Marian game film provides an eye full of contrast, which longtime coach Mary Cicerone found out when she popped in the tape of the game against Friday’s opponent, rival Farmington Hills Mercy.

“I was just watching last year’s game against Mercy, and I was like ‘Who’s that skinny little …?’” Cicerone said with a chuckle of picking out then-freshman Shannon Kennedy, who shot up between her freshman and sophomore years, stretching the tape to 5-foot-10 now. “Yeah, at least three inches shorter, and even skinnier than she is right now.”

The taller Kennedy used every bit of that enhanced length to her utmost advantage Friday night, scoring a game-high 23 points, as the No. 6-ranked Mustangs (9-0, 5-0 CHSL Central) jumped all over the one-loss Marlins early, rolling to a comfortable 60-41 win to claim the top spot in the Catholic League’s Central Division rankings for themselves.

Like last year’s team, which got off to a 7-0 start before taking the first of two losses to Dearborn Divine Child, this year’s team has been impressive in the early season. But how this year’s team is doing it is vastly different.

Last year’s squad was — as most Marian teams are — defensive oriented. But it was almost to a fault, as there were times that points were hard to come by. Those Mustangs averaged 43 points per game — an average that slipped to 33 points in five losses — while giving up just 30 points per game.

This year’s team is just as defensive-minded, holding opponents to 35.4 points per game, but they’ve bumped the offensive average up nearly 14 points to 56.9 points per game.

Friday’s 60-point outburst against Mercy (7-2, 4-1 CHSL Central) was the fourth time they’ve reached that mark.

“They have a lot of weapons on offense. Kennedy was unbelievable tonight. Did she miss a shot?” Mercy coach Gary Morris mused. “It’s really tough to match, because you’ve gotta be worried about (Olivia) Moore and (Sophia) Mancini and Kennedy on the perimeter, but then if you concentrate too much on them, they can definitely hurt you inside. (Megan) Kraus can finish, and (Sarah) Sylvester’s a freshman, she’s going to get better, and (Lauren) Licari — so it’s kind of pick your poison.

“They are, they’re a hard team to guard. And then they defend. They’re always going to defend.”

Most teams don’t get that much better, year over year, unless they get a key transfer, or a huge freshman … or spend their No. 1 draft pick wisely.

Granted, the Mustangs added the 6-foot-2 freshman Sylvester, but even when she’s not contributing a ton — she had two free throws off the bench Friday — there are still plenty of other sources of offense.

And most of that improvement has come from just … well, growth.

“One hundred percent. Getting better every night,” Kennedy said. “We just came together as a team, got a little bit older, more experienced.”

Cicerone agreed.

“Sophia and Shannon have really improved their ball-handling, and passing. Sophia was always a good little defender, and now she’s adding (scoring). We can spread the offense so much, with Livy, Sophia and Shannon out there. And then our big kid, Sarah, she didn’t shoot the ball that well today, but she’s usually pretty strong, powerful in the post. Megan’s improved her game,” Cicerone said. “That’s the best thing as a coach, when you see how much they grow from one year to the next. I mean, Shannon’s made leaps and bounds. Sophia, and Megan has — if you would’ve seen Megan play as a freshman, it’s like night and day.”

For Kennedy, in particular, that growth was sudden. But it’s not been so quick that it’s left her discombobulated, or anything.

“I mean, sometimes, you look at her and think ‘Oh, there’s Pinocchio, all arms and legs.’ But most of the time, she’s doing really well,” Cicerone joked. “She’s an athlete, though. She’s always doing something. Her eye-hand coordination. She’s a sports junkie, so she’s not been sitting around just growing, she’s moving.”

Kennedy isn’t just a hoopster. Her initial specialty was putting the ball in the hole in another sport: Golf.

At the Division 2 finals at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West on Oct. 19-20, Kennedy shot a two-day total of 153 — two strokes off the medalist pace set by Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern’s Kay Zubkus and Okemos’ Allison Cui — to help Marian finish fifth as a team. As a freshman, she won the D2 individual title, shooting a 146 at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley to finish three strokes ahead of Midland Dow’s Alexis Carras, leading the Mustangs to a runner-up finish.

The growth spurt has done nothing but good things for the sophomore on the basketball court, though.

“I just feel more confident,” she said. “I feel like I can get my shot off a little quicker, just rising above a little bit.”

Kennedy had 11 of her 23 points in a first quarter that saw the Mustangs jump out to an 11-0 lead, and hold the Marlins scoreless until Lindsay Lukomski’s 3-pointer with 3:41 left in the first quarter. Marian would close the first quarter on a 10-0 run, leading 25-5 after eight minutes of play.

“Obviously, they’re a very good team, and we knew that coming in. I tried to call a timeout early, and I just said ‘You guys gotta relax.’ The word that we didn’t play with was poise. We were playing 150 mph, and playing right into their hands. After that I think we settled down, but when you dig yourself that kind of a hole, it’s difficult to come back, especially against a team that good,” Morris said. “That beginning … it was just … playing way, way out of control.”

Marian was never really challenged from there, leading 34-16 at the half, and 44-25 headed to the fourth. Mercy put on a little burst in the fourth to cut the deficit back to 15, but Kennedy led the Marlins on a 7-0 run to quell any thoughts of a comeback before heading to the bench for the night.

“We’re a young team, but as I told our kids, they’ve got a lot of young kids, too. It’s not like we can say that’s why they beat us — they only have two seniors.  It’s up to us to get better, because we know they’re not going to get worse. If we’re going to close that margin — and we play them again next Friday,” Morris said. “It’s good to get something out of this. You play someone good — in this case really good — and as the saying goes, they expose all your flaws. That happened tonight.”

For the Mustangs, they have a home date against Divine Child before the rematch.

It’s been a fun start for Marian, though.

“It’s great. I’m loving it. It’s fun,” Kennedy said. “I knew we’d be good, but I didn’t think we’d be this good.”