By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
When the Adrian Lenawee Christian girls basketball team beat Portland St. Patrick to win a Class D Regional Semifinal this week, first-year Cougars head coach Jamie Salenbien didn’t need to look far to find someone to hug.
His wife, Debbie, was sitting a few feet away at the scorer’s table.
Next on the to-do list was find and hug his daughter, Dani, an LCS sophomore who dribbled away the final seconds for the Cougars after scoring a game-high 21 points. Last, but not least, there was another daughter, freshman phenom Bree, who had just scored 19 points and had several key baskets during Lenawee Christian’s second-half rally. His sons, Tyler and Jaxon, were nearby, too, and ready for a quick high-five.
For the Salenbien family, basketball is a passion. Whether it’s in the family’s backyard in Lenawee County or on a basketball court somewhere in southeast Michigan, the “silly game” as Coach Salenbien calls it not only has meant a lot to his family, but to the Lenawee Christian family, too.
“Our community is very much behind us,” Jamie Salenbien said. “It’s a great wave of support. We’re enjoying every minute of it.”
The Cougars won the school’s first Regional title since 2010 on Thursday, beating Plymouth Christian, and will play Athens (21-4) on Tuesday in the Quarterfinal at Richland Gull Lake. LCS is 23-1 and on a 16-game win streak. It’s only loss this season was to Class A Monroe. That loss was by one point, 41-40.
Jamie Salenbien is a Hudson native who played college basketball at Siena Heights University in Adrian. He once scored 50 points in a game in high school but doesn’t like to talk about any individual honors or accolades he has received. He and Debbie have been married 18 years. They met at a friend’s wedding – and that friend was at the Regional game this week in Morrice. Debbie played basketball at Allen Park Inter-City Baptist and in college, too.
The family always has loved a little competition.
“When our kids were little, we played a lot of games,” Coach Salenbien said. “Of course, we played a lot of basketball, too. And, I coached them when they were young. And, when I coached at Onsted, they were always around. The girls spent a lot of time around the game, and they fell in love with it. I love it, Debbie loves it, so it’s just a good match.”
Dani said the family talks basketball quite a bit – even at dinner. But, she said, she’s fine with it.
“It’s a part of our family,” Dani said. “It always has been. It’s interesting some of the time. But, its part of who we are.”
Dani, 16, burst onto the prep basketball scene in Lenawee County last season, showing remarkable poise for her age and quickly becoming the team’s go-to player even though they had an all-stater in Kiera Nieto. Bree, 14, joined the varsity this season and finished the regular season as Lenawee County’s top scorer. At 6-foot-2, she runs the floor like a point guard and posts up like a center. She’s the point person on the LCS full-court press, making it difficult for anyone to throw it over her head.
Entering the Regional, Bree Salenbien had averages of 21.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.5 steals, 3.2 blocks and 3.0 assists per game.
“She can score inside and out,” her father said. “She’s a tough matchup for anyone. We try and utilize her best we can in that fashion.”
Dani’s numbers are just as impressive. She averages 13.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 4.0 steals a game.
Both girls take after their parents – humble, full of smiles and deflecting of the attention.
“I love my teammates to death, and we do it all together,” Dani said. “That makes it all better. We have a term called ‘84-50’ (which are the dimensions, in feet, of a basketball court). We keep everything on the floor. We don’t think of anything outside of the gym or the court. We’re all about each other. I can’t do anything without my teammates.”
Bree said she and her sister have a special relationship on the court.
“I usually know where she is,” she said. “We have a connection. She’s a great ball handler. I know I need to get the ball to her. She’s a great player. My dad is a great coach. My mom is amazing. My brothers are great fans. We just love it.”
Debbie Salenbien works at LCS and serves as the scorekeeper for the team. Just before the tipoff of Thursday’s Regional championship game, after the starting lineups were introduced, both girls walked over to their mom, gave her a fist bump and handed her their warm-up shirts.
“We talk a lot about basketball,” Debbie said. “Basketball is always on television. We go to some University of Michigan games. We just love basketball.”
When the season ends, Jamie said he will have time to reflect on just how special this season has been for not only the Lenawee Christian community but his own family.
And, it looks like there are plenty of more good times to come. The Cougars start a freshman, three sophomores and a junior.
“They put a tremendous amount of time into this silly game,” he said of his daughters and their teammates. “We preach fundamentals – how to pass, catch, dribble, shoot. The whole experience has been awesome. I have to let it soak in more, but I know it’s awesome.”
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 Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Lenawee Christian freshman Bree Salenbien brings the ball upcourt; she led Lenawee County in scoring average this season at 21 ppg. (Middle) Basketball is a passion for the Salenbien family, including head coach Jamie, his wife Debbie (at the scorers table) and sophomore Dani Salenbien, here during Thursday’s Regional Final win over Plymouth Christian. (Photos by Mike Dickie.)
Championship time is quickly approaching this girls basketball season.
We’re still three weeks out from the start of District play. But league contenders are clashing all over the state, with a handful of conferences finishing up their schedules this week and several favorites facing off soon with titles on the line. We make mention of a number of those below.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. West Bloomfield 59, Detroit Edison 49 Last season, West Bloomfield (15-2) became the first in-state team to defeat Edison (12-3) since 2018 – and the Lakers have become the only one to do so again this winter.
2. Maple City Glen Lake 51, Traverse City St. Francis 45 The Lakers (13-2) are up to No. 2 in Division 4 MPR, while St. Francis (12-2) sits No. 4 in Division 3.
3. Holt 55, DeWitt 53 The Rams (14-2) sit alone atop the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue after sending the Panthers (13-2) into second in a matchup of top Division 1 teams statewide.
4. Hancock 50, Calumet 47 The Bulldogs (13-1) maintained their one-game lead in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference West with their second win this season over third-place Calumet (11-3). Both are among the top seven statewide in Division 3 MPR.
5. Detroit Edison 44, Farmington Hills Mercy 42 The Pioneers bounced back from the West Bloomfield loss with a pair of close wins, this one over Mercy (14-2) followed by a one-pointer over Grand Rapids Catholic Central on Saturday.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (11-5) After a 2-4 start with those losses to top Division 1 and 2 teams statewide, Reeths-Puffer is 9-3 and tied for first in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green with Muskegon after edging the Big Reds 56-52 on Friday. That avenged a 14-point loss to Muskegon on Jan. 6, and the Rockets have since gone on an eight-game winning streak. They also opened last week with a 42-39 victory over 11-win Ludington.
Wayne Memorial (13-4) The Zebras further solidified their standing atop the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East standings with last week’s 75-57 win over second-place Belleville. That followed up a 44-41 win over the Tigers on Jan. 6, and total Wayne has won 12 straight since a 1-3 start that included two-point losses to Division 1 contenders Detroit Renaissance and Hudsonville and a third defeat to Illinois power Chicago Whitney Young.
Goodrich (14-1) The Martians are locked in another battle atop the Flint Metro League Stars with Lake Fenton and trail the Blue Devils by a game after a 50-44 loss Jan. 20. That’s Goodrich’s only defeat, and they’ll attempt to avenge it in the league finale Feb. 17. In the meantime, the Martians can continue their statewide push upward with 13-win Flushing coming up Wednesday and 15-win Ovid-Elsie next week as well.
Redford Westfield Prep (11-6) The Warriors take on many of the state’s best, evidenced by their No. 8 MPR despite six losses. Westfield has won seven of its last eight games, the lone defeat during that streak 55-53 to still-undefeated Flint Carman-Ainsworth on Jan. 16 – and with perhaps its most notable instate win of the season 46-45 in double overtime Jan. 12 over reigning Division 3 champion Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
McBain (13-4) The Highland Conference race could go down to the finish, especially after McBain avenged its earlier 17-point loss to second-place Evart with a 51-35 win last week. McBain also has a six-point loss to league leader Lake City from Jan. 20, but can avenge that in the regular-season finale Feb. 23. The Ramblers additionally have a pair of victories over 12-win Beal City and a solid early loss to still-undefeated Division 2 Escanaba.
Ovid-Elsie (15-2) The Marauders haven’t slowed down a bit after last season’s 21-2 finish with league and District titles, the latter in Division 2. This season in Division 3, Ovid-Elsie is up to No. 6 in MPR with a 14-game winning streak since suffering its lone losses early to Pewamo-Westphalia (10-5) and Dansville (15-1). The Marauders handed Mackinaw City its first defeat Saturday, 59-55 on a neutral court, and also has a victory over 14-win Ithaca plus a two-game lead in the Mid-Michigan Activities Conference.
Fowler (11-6) Coming off back-to-back Division 4 championships, Fowler put together a schedule featuring solid-to-strong teams from Divisions 1-4 and sit No. 3 in Division 4 MPR. The losses have come to Midland Dow, Haslett, Lansing Catholic, Kent City and league rivals Dansville and Portland St. Patrick, and the Eagles avenged the Shamrocks defeat 51-44 last week. Fowler will need help to catch Dansville in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference, down two games from the league leader, but will try to get one back from the Aggies on Feb. 14.
Norway (16-1) The Knights are leading the large-school division of the Skyline Central Conference with the likely deciding matchup coming at Bark River-Harris next week. Norway has lost only to Niagara (Wis.), by five two weeks ago, and handed Carney-Nadeau (13-2) one of its losses among other strong work – and after ending last season’s 11-10 run with a 15-point District loss to the Wolves.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Coldwater (15-1) at Jackson Northwest (15-1) – The Mounties lead Coldwater by a win in the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference thanks to a 50-46 win in their first meeting Jan. 10.
Tuesday – Utica Ford (14-1) at Grosse Pointe North (13-2) – North has clinched a share of the Macomb Area Conference Red title heading into tonight’s league finale, while Ford won by a large margin in the MAC White.
Thursday – Houghton (13-1) at Hancock (13-1) – As noted above, Hancock leads the West-PAC West by a game – but will face second-place Houghton twice over the next two weeks.
Friday – Standish-Sterling (15-1) at Hemlock (13-3) – Hemlock owns the lead in the Tri-Valley Conference West 10-1 thanks to a 62-31 doubling up in the first meeting Jan. 6. But that remains the Panthers’ lone loss, and they’ve since handed TVC 10-2 co-leader Saginaw Valley Lutheran one of its two defeats.
Friday – Saline (15-2) at Temperance Bedford (16-1) – Saline is first and Bedford second in the Southeastern Conference Red thanks to Saline’s 41-22 win in their first meeting Jan. 27.
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PHOTOS (Top) A trio of Fowler defenders surround a Bath player driving to the basket during a 49-27 win earlier this season; they meet again Thursday. (Middle) Maddie Bradford of Maple City Glen Lake contests a shot by Maggie Napont of Traverse City St. Francis during the Lakers' 51-45 win over the Gladiators last week. (Top photo by Click by Christine McCallister. Middle photo by Rick Sack/TC Rick Photo.)