Lenawee Christian Different, But Not Down

February 28, 2020

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

In the first practice without Bree Salenbien, the Lenawee Christian girls basketball team didn’t dwell on the fact the best player in the Division 4 tournament the last couple of seasons won’t be on the court for this season’s playoff run.

“Practice was amazing,” third-year Lenawee Christian head coach Jamie Salenbien said. “The girls talked about ways to step up, and they assured each other of their foundation.”

Lenawee Christian has won back-to-back Finals championships, in Class D in 2018 and Division 4 in 2019. During each of those state championship runs, 6-foot-4 Bree Salenbien showcased the incredible talent that has earned her more than 25 scholarship offers from Division I schools across the country – including Michigan and Michigan State. 

In a stunning turn of events, however, Salenbien tore her ACL with about 15 seconds remaining in overtime of Lenawee Christian’s final regular-season game earlier this week. That drastically changed the entire MHSAA tournament picture as the 17-3 Cougars – who have played one of the toughest schedules in the state regardless of division – no longer are the overwhelming favorites.

Don’t tell them that, however.

“It definitely is going to be a long hard road,” said Cougars senior Dani Salenbien, Bree’s older sister. “It’s no secret Bree is a huge part of our team, but I have no doubt that our team will adjust and come out strong when we play next.”

The Cougars have gone 15-0 the last two seasons in postseason play, winning the first two girls basketball championships in school history. The Salenbiens have been at the forefront of those title runs. Jamie Salenbien is a Hudson graduate who coached three years at Onsted before stepping down to concentrate on coaching his daughters through their youth teams.

He became head varsity coach at Lenawee Christian when Dani was entering her sophomore year and Bree was about to make her varsity debut. The result was a 26-1 season and Class D Final win over Chassell. Bree was named the Class D Player of the Year and her dad was named Coach of the Year by The Associated Press. 

Last season, Dani Salenbien took more of a lead role, especially during the tournament, helping turn the Cougars’ fortunes with an outstanding performance in the championship game win over St. Ignace. Both Salenbiens were all-state choices, and this year it looked like the Cougars were destined to become one of the few three-peat champions in MHSAA history. They have been ranked No. 1 all season. The only team with a higher Michigan Power Rating than LCS is Division 2 Detroit Edison, a team the Cougars lost to as part of a rugged schedule that saw LCS face three teams that have been ranked No. 1 in three separate classes this season.

The game against Edison was played in front of a standing-room only crowd at LCS. Dani Salenbien poured in eight 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points, which Edison eventually pulled away and won.

“It definitely was nerve-wracking,” Dani said. “The environment was kind of insane. I had so much fun. It was an opportunity for us to show our love of Christ and play to the best of our ability. Anytime you play a team like that, you have the chance to improve.”

Among the other teams on the LCS schedule this year have been Hartland, who was No. 1 in Division 1 at one point of the season; several state-ranked Division 4 schools such as Fowler and Allen Park Inter-City Baptist; Toledo Christian, ranked No. 2 in Ohio’s Division 4; and Cascades Conference powerhouses Michigan Center and Grass Lake, which was ranked No. 1 in Division 3 for much of the season.

“Playing 20 different teams pushes the girls to prepare and perform each game,” Coach Salenbien said. “By playing some of the best teams in the state, it hopefully prepares the girls for the toughest situations they might face.

“Facing the best requires you to dig deep and play your best.”

The game against Grass Lake on Tuesday was one of those games, two powerhouses battling on every possession. In the waning seconds of the first overtime, the Cougars grabbed a rebound and found Bree on an outlet pass. She took a dribble, then appeared to have tried to dribble the ball behind her back when she went to the floor. By Thursday, the Salenbien family was overwhelmed with text messages, phone calls and e-mails from friends, family and former Cougars players and coaches offering prayers and support for Bree.

On Thursday afternoon the Cougars were back on the practice floor, getting ready for Monday’s Division 4 District game against Ann Arbor Rudolf Steiner.

Coach Salenbien said the girls got in practice, strength training and spent some time reading through some of the messages the team has received over the last couple of days. It’s not business as usual, of course, but don’t expect a letdown once the postseason starts Monday.

“This group is so tough,” Coach Salenbien said. “I just love how fearless they approach challenges.

“One of our themes is ‘Chase the Lion’ which stresses the importance of dreaming big and taking positive risks without fear. The group lives this out.”

Dani, Libby Miller and Caitlin Anderson are four-year starters. Dani – who has signed to play at Hillsdale College next year – has scored more than 1,200 career points, while Miller has made 178 career 3-pointers and Caitlin is nearing 100 career games played. Cara Anderson and Lizzy Scharer both have big game experience as well, having played in an MHSAA Final. 

The Cougars plan to approach this Division 4 tournament just as they would with Bree.

“I don’t know if anyone’s roles will change or not,” Dani said. “I’m excited. We’re going to have to play our best, and everyone is going to have to step up. The postseason makes us all that much more serious. We already are serious, but it just intensifies in the postseason.”

The Cougars have played against some of Michigan and Ohio’s best teams this year and are ready for that road to pay off. Lenawee Christian also has something few other teams have – virtually unmatched big game experience.

Like Dani Salenbien said, “It helps when you have been there.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Adrian Lenawee Christian coach Jamie Salenbien talks things over with his team during a game break this season. (Middle) Dani Salenbien pulls up for a jumper. (Photos courtesy of the Lenawee Christian athletic department.)

Lansing Catholic Closes Season With Memorable Victory Close to Home

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

March 18, 2023

EAST LANSING – The Lansing Catholic girls basketball team took a short drive to end a long wait.

Playing just three miles from their high school, the Cougars defeated Frankenmuth 43-29 Saturday at the Breslin Center to win the MHSAA Division 2 Final. It was the first Finals title for the program since 1995.

“It felt like homecourt advantage a little bit,” Lansing Catholic senior guard Hannah Pricco said. “Our bus trip wasn’t super long. It just kind of felt like we were coming to our own court.”

The Cougars treated it that way, dominating from the beginning of the matchup in their first Finals trip since that 1995 title. They scored the game’s first 11 points and never looked back.

The Cougars’ Anna Richards (10) attempts to get a shot up over Frankenmuth’s Lexi Boyke.“This is, as you can imagine, extremely surreal,” Lansing Catholic coach Kacee Reid said. “You’re going through literally every emotion on the bench, especially in a game like that. Frankenmuth is making such a great comeback, and we knew they were going to fight to the end. To go through the anger and sadness and happiness, and now it’s over and we’ve won it. It’s just been a rollercoaster of emotions, and I can’t describe the pride I have in these girls.”

It was the second meeting between the two teams, with Lansing Catholic taking the first 74-42 on Feb. 2. But Reid wasn’t going to let her team come in overconfident.

“They didn’t get here by accident,” Reid said. “They’re in the state championship because they’re playing their best ball of the year. We played them a month and a half ago. … We’re a totally different team, and we knew they were a totally different team. We knew they had been playing some really good basketball, and it didn’t matter at all what that first outcome was. We knew this was going to be a battle.”

Lansing Catholic (24-5) never trailed, and led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter. Leah Richards led the Cougars with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Anna Richards had 14 points. Gabby Halliwill added seven.

The Cougars were spurred by their defense throughout, holding Frankenmuth to 9 of 36 shooting from the field and forcing 13 turnovers.

“For us, defensively, we had to switch it up,” Reid said. “We had to keep switching up between man and zone. They were making adjustments and we couldn’t really sit in one thing for too long; they got comfortable. That’s a credit to their coaching staff always making adjustments. We had to continue to switch things up defensively and try to hopefully make their shooters second-guess their shot, or maybe not know where we were coming from.”

Frankenmuth (25-3) didn’t go away, despite trailing by double digits for the majority of the game. 

That was helped by Lansing Catholic shooting 1 of 11 from the field in the third quarter, and going scoreless for the final 5:26 of the frame.

Tessa Roe (12) works to get past Clare Conzelmann and to the basket.The Eagles cut the lead to seven with 2:45 to play on a steal and layup from Clare Conzelmann, but never got closer.

“There was always belief no matter what detriment we got ourselves in,” Frankenmuth senior Lexi Boyke said. “I wouldn’t want to choose any other girls to play with and be in with at that point. I think we fought back and really prided ourselves on, ‘We can still do it.’ We didn’t stop fighting until the end.”

Lansing Catholic always figured Frankenmuth would make a run to get into the game, but was ready when it came.

“We knew they were going to make runs, we knew we weren’t going to hold them to seven points the whole game,” Anna Richards said. “We knew in the third quarter they were going to score, so we just had to stay composed, work the ball around on offense to get the good shots that we wanted.”

Boyke, who scored Frankenmuth’s first 10 points and was its only scorer well into the third quarter, finished with 16. She also reached 1,000 career points in the game, and had six rebounds, while Izzy Bernthal had seven.

Frankenmuth was making its first Finals appearance since winning the Class C title in 1996, one year after Lansing Catholic. 

“That’s a really good Lansing Catholic team, and you’ve seen that from their postseason run and beating an undefeated West Catholic team, and tonight finishing their season off with a state championship. So, congratulations to them,” Frankenmuth coach Joe Jacobs said. “I’m super proud of our kids. They didn’t quit tonight. They could have. … Fun experience, one that we want to treasure forever, but the motivation to come back again is here after tonight’s loss.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Cougars’ Anna Richards (10) attempts to get a shot up over Frankenmuth’s Lexi Boyke. (Below) Tessa Roe (12) works to get past Clare Conzelmann and to the basket.