First-year Marquette boys basketball coach Fred Mooney doesn’t come across as a masochist. But if you look at the Blazers’ schedule this season, you might think he likes pain.
Lots and lots of pain.
After a 76-49 loss at Mishawaka Marian (a Class 3A team with an 8-3 record that is 4-1 against 4A schools this season) on Thursday, Marquette sits at 5-11.
That’s not exactly a record overflowing with optimism.
But I’m here to tell you the Blazers will be just fine, because this schedule is tougher and more painful than a root canal and colonoscopy being done on you simultaneously.
Sounds like I’m masochistic, huh?
Marquette has faced schools that are five, 10 and almost 15 times the size of the Class A institution. One of them was Bloomington South on Dec. 23 during a holiday tournament. The Blazers were down just seven with four and a half minutes left in the game, with the ball, and a 3-pointer went in and out. Bloomington ended up winning 63-43.
“That shot was halfway down the hoop before popping out,” Mooney recalled.
Among the rest of the schedule that would make the average small-school coach bang his or her head against a wall was a trio of monster road games to start the season — at Class 4A Gary West Side, at 3A power South Bend St. Joseph and at Dick’s Sporting Goods Nationals champ La Lumiere, as well as games against Evansville Harrison (4A team, 11-3 record), Lowell (4A, 6-8), Kokomo (4A, 9-5) and Andrean (3A, 8-5).
Mooney isn’t to blame on the toughest, though he’s not complaining. Previous coach Donovan Garletts and athletic director Katie Collignon — who is also the girls basketball coach with a pretty masochistic schedule for that squad, too.
“Toughest we’ve ever had,” Garletts said, still using ‘we’ despite being an administrator down in Greencastle. “I knew it by about February of last year. J.R. (Holmes at Bloomington South, which is where Garletts was an assistant before heading to Marquette) finally agrees to play me and I jumped on it.”
Basically being kicked out of the Greater South Shore Conference has helped the Marquette basketball teams add tougher opponents (the only GSSC leftover on the boys schedule is Hammond Bishop Noll on Feb. 8), especially the boys with the rotation in transition after last season.
“We’ve talked about a lot with the kids — focus on improving and developing all season long and not focusing on wins and losses,” Mooney said. “I wouldn’t want to play us in the sectional.”
Well, the Blazers were already going to be tough with a target on their backs after winning xxx consecutive sectional titles and three of the last four regionals.
The other aspect of this season that may seem to be a downer, but provides a silver lining down the road, is the injuries to key players.
Junior guard Jalen Russell has been out since that Bloomington South game.
“He was one of our stars offensive and defensively the first few games,” Mooney said.
His absence has allowed others on the 10-man roster to get valuable playing time, including Connor Donaldson, who is known more for his soccer prowess, and Jake Tarnow, who is known more for his cross country success.
“Jake played huge for us at Andrean,” Mooney said, adding that the Blazers were tied with the 59ers in that game with three minutes left before losing by 12. “And Connor gives you everything he has out there, contributing in so many ways.”
So the bad news is that the record won’t improve too much before the postseason with next month bringing games at Culver Academies and Goshen and a home contest against Lake Central with its enrollment of more than 3,200.
The good news is that none of the Class 2A Hebron Sectional opponents can come close to the toughness that will be accrued by the defending champs.
• Bowling record: History was made last month at City Lanes in Michigan City. On Dec. 20 in the Wednesday Civic League, the team appropriately called “Beastmode” were collectively beasts by breaking the city record for a five-man team. Beastmode shot an enormous 3,756 three-game series as a team, led by Michigan City High School girls bowling assistant coach Phil Butzky’s monster 869 series. He started the set with back-to-back 300 games. Nate Fisher also topped the coveted 800 mark with 801, while Jordan Johnston shot 740 and Joe Ello shot 738. Adam Bildhauser rounded out the team with 608.
Believe it or not, they actually didn’t win all three games in the handicap league despite the record. In the last game, their opponent “Half of Half” beat Beastmode 1,200 to 1,176, due to Beastmode not having any team handicap (Fisher was averaging 240 going into the night, while Johnston was at 239).
Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.