Cary-Grove brings the energy against rival Marian Central Catholic
Cary-Grove didn't have the season it wanted a year ago and worked hard over the off-season to fix the problems that ultimately resulted in a 12-win season.
So far, the Trojans sure have the look of a team with something to prove.
After holding a comfortable lead throughout the first half and most of the third quarter against Marian Central on Thursday, the Trojans withstood a Hurricanes' rally for a 51-35 victory in their final pool game at Johnsburg's Feast Mode Tournament.
Cary-Grove (2-0), which beat Woodstock in its season opener Tuesday, will play for the tournament championship at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Final pool games will be completed earlier in the day to determine the Trojans' opponent.
"We have to bring the energy because they're always trying to put it on us," sophomore guard Kennedy Manning said of facing Marian. "We've got kind of a rivalry with them. They're such a great team, and it's back and forth between us all the time."
Junior forward Ellie Mjaanes led Cary-Grove with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks, while senior forward Emily Larry chipped in 11 points and two 3-pointers. Manning had 7 points and 5 steals.
Trojans coach Tony Moretti said the start of this season has a completely different feel to it.
"What I've seen is a different energy," Moretti said. "They believe that they can win. We had some growing pains last year, but growing pains come with positives, too. You've been through the battles a little bit. They don't want that taste in their mouth anymore. They want that winning feeling."
Cary-Grove led 20-12 at halftime and started the third quarter on a 6-0 run, getting a free throw from Mjaanes, a running shot from Manning and a 3-pointer from Malaina Kurth (8 points).
Mjanees, the Trojans' tallest player at 6-foot-2, picked up her fourth foul with 3:20 remaining in the third quarter, sending her to the bench, and the Hurricanes made their run.
Marian junior point guard Abbey Miner had a steal and assist to Juliette Huff, and Ella Notaro hit a shot and a free throw to cut Cary-Grove's lead to 31-26 to end the third quarter. At the start of the fourth, Lucy Iden made a nice inside move for 2 points, bringing the Hurricanes to within 31-28.
The Trojans, however, answered with a 3 from Manning and went on a 13-4 run to pull away for the last time, also getting 3s from Sam Skerl (7 points) and Larry.
"(Mjaanes) is the biggest cheerleader for her teammates," Moretti said. "When she went out, it wasn't panic. It was, 'Let's move on to the next play.' It's next man in, that's our attitude. We've got a short bench and we'll play them all. We're not afraid to put anyone in a game at any time."
Mjaanes said she had all the confidence in her teammates to hold off the Hurricanes.
"We redesigned our whole offense and defense, and we just worked really hard in the off-season and the first two weeks before our first game," Mjaanes said. "Being able to show that off on the court tonight, I'm just really proud of how my team has put it all together."
Marian (0-1) was led by Notaro with 11 points and 5 rebounds. Huff tossed in 7 points and 6 rebounds, and Miner and Kiara Kelley had 4 points apiece.
The Hurricanes won a program-record 25 games last year but were without senior Madison Kenyon, who led the team in scoring last season at 14.3 points a game. Kenyon injured her knee in practice, and coach Lee Brown said they are hopeful to get her back sometime next week.
Brown felt Cary-Grove's defense forced the Hurricanes out of their preferred offensive style.
"They were handling us good defensively," Brown said. "We like to play fast, and we didn't get out as much as we wanted to, but that's a big credit to them. They're a well-coached team and a great program.
"It's just about getting back to work for us and keeping our heads up because we are a good team."