It was no secret this past season that Birmingham Marian had the state’s best girls basketball team. The Mustangs, however, held a huge secret they did not reveal until season’s end.
Marian head coach Mary Cicerone confirmed that the Thomas sisters – Bailey and Samantha – will not return for the 2015-16 school year. The family is moving to Nevada as their father Derek, a Marian assistant coach, has accepted a job with Nike.
“We knew about this for two months. I’m good at keeping secrets,” Cicerone said. “(Derek) had this opportunity and he told us. The girls did a good job of keeping it secret, because they did not want it to interfere with all the plans that we had and what we were trying to accomplish.
“The (other) girls are heartbroken that they aren’t going to have Sam and Bailey, more so as friends than basketball,” she added. “But you know, life goes on.”
Bailey, a junior guard, and Samantha, a sophomore guard, were key players in Marian’s last two Class A state championship runs.
Bailey started as a freshman and helped lead Marian to the Class A district and regional championships before falling in the state quarterfinal game to Grosse Pointe South. Marian finished with a 21-4 record that year.
Bailey was joined by younger sister Sam on last year’s squad and they made quite a formidable tandem in leading Marian to the 2014 Class A state championship.
Talented team leaders
The talented sisters were again team leaders this year as the Mustangs captured their second straight state championship last month. Sam averaged 11.4 points and led Marian in rebounds and blocked shots. Bailey averaged 7.4 points and led the team in assists and steals.
The state championships were the fifth and sixth in Marian’s illustrious history. However, it marked the first time in Cicerone’s 32-year head coaching career that Marian had ever won consecutive state championships.
During the Thomas years, Marian won at an incredible .907 clip (69-7).
“Of course we’re disappointed, but (Derek) got a job in Vegas and he wants to try and continue to coach,” Cicerone said. “It’s a good opportunity for him and they wanted to be together as a family.
“It’s a little disappointing for Bailey (to leave) in her senior year. She has almost a 4.3 (grade-point average), so she’s an excellent student and doing really well academically and athletically,” she added. “And she has to up and go, but that’s what families do all the time. Parents make sacrifices for their children and children have to make sacrifices, too.”
Derek Thomas joined Marian’s coaching staff midway through Bailey’s first year at Marian. As a defensive specialist, he helped Cicerone develop a smothering trap that proved highly effective in every big game the team played the past few seasons.
“Derek and I kind of split the duties there at the end because, you know, he kind of had two vested interests on the team,” Cicerone said. “He’s a coach and he threw his whole heart and soul into it.
“We actually worked very well together and now I have to do more work on my own again,” she added. “The kids all appreciated the time coach Thomas put in for us. It worked out. It was a great scenario for us.”
No returning starters
With the departure of the Thomas sisters, Cicerone will not have any returning starters from this year’s team, which went 26-1, finished with a lofty national ranking (No. 8 by USA Today) and was ranked No. 1 in Michigan from the season’s onset.
The Mustangs did not lose to a Michigan-based team. Their only defeat was to Chicago Whitney Young nine games into the season and the Mustangs concluded this year with an impressive 18-game winning streak.
Besides Bailey and Sam, Marian’s other starters were seniors Kara Holinski, Brittany Gray and Jaeda Robinson.
Marian’s top three underclassmen in terms of playing time this year included junior center Elizabeth Grobbel, sophomore forward Madeline Laurencelle and junior guard McKenna Landis. All three had 10 or more minutes of playing time in the 51-37 state championship game win over DeWitt.
Cicerone said she is looking forward to the challenge of starting over again next season.
“We’re going to miss the Thomas sisters, but we’re going to be fine,” Cicerone said. “I’ve got work to do. Every night (next year) will be a big game for us. But we’ll be competitive and I have some kids who played a lot this year.
“Those top five of mine we’re pretty good, but our other kids faced them every day in practice,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how they step up to the challenge. We may not be number one all year like we were this year, but there are always things to look forward to with a new group like we’ll have next year.”
With that in mind, it’s going to be hard to replace what the Bailey sisters provided the past few seasons.
“Well, we had a core of seniors that put in a tremendous amount of hours and they were the backbone of our team as far as showing what hard work and dedication was,” Cicerone said. “And then (add) Bailey, who is a very good athlete who made the team that much better and was a big piece of the puzzle.
“Then throw in Sam, who was 6-foot-1 and can play any position on the floor and is very athletic. All the pieces fell together. We had great leadership, great dedication and some more athleticism to go with the group and their camaraderie was really good.
“It was a nice little situation we had, probably a little too easy for the coach, but they were all great kids,” she added. “You couldn’t ask for two nicer kids. Losing the Thomases is, of course, disappointing, but now they get to add another adventure to their lives. It was a great two and three years that we had them.”