While she watched her team warm up for its tussle with Our Lady of the Lakes a couple of weeks ago, coach Jennifer VanGoethem was relishing the challenge her girls at Wixom-based St. Catherine of Siena Academy face playing in the Catholic League’s East Division.
Moving from the West “is something we’ve asked for the last two years,” she said. “We want stiffer competition. We belong here.”
VanGoethem is well-acquainted with Catholic League’s brand of basketball, dating back more than 20 years ago, to 1993 and 1994 — then she was Jennifer Jacek — as a forward on the back-to-back Dearborn Divine Child Class B state champions.
Over the course of 15 years, after graduating from Madonna University, she’s coached at her alma mater, Madison Heights Bishop Foley, and Bloomfield Hills Sacred Heart in addition to five years at Milford High before arriving at St. Catherine two years ago.
This is just the fourth varsity team the Stars have put on a basketball floor (the school opened in 2011, enrollment 180), but they pushed coach Steve Robak’s more experienced Lakers to the limit before losing in overtime, 55-53.
St. Catherine battled from a 10-point deficit to tie the score at 34-34 midway through the third quarter on a free throw and basket by senior guard Cheryl Setlock (team high 22 points). No more than four points separated the teams the rest of the way.
Setlock’s long triple with 29 seconds remaining in regulation tied the score at 46 to mandate overtime.
Lakers senior Alex Troy sank a pair of free throws with 7.1 seconds to play to win the game.
After the game, Robak said his girls’ “experience from last year” was the difference. He has his starting five back — seniors Troy, Megan Ross and Allison Maiorana, and sophomores Tiffany Senerius and Lucille Kline — who reached the semifinals of last year’s Class D state tournament.
Senerius, a name very much a part of Our Lady of the Lakes athletics lore, led the Lakers with a game-high 23 points, 13 down the stretch, five in overtime.
Cheering for her in the stands were her twin brothers, seniors Clay and Devin, who formed a powerful quarterback/receiver tandem on the gridiron this fall, leading the Lakers to the Division 8 state championship finals.
Clay, the Division 7-8 Player of the Year, passed for a school-record 2,913 yards and 34 touchdowns, two less than the record 36 he set as a junior. Drew, a Division 8 All-State player, snagged 13 of those TDs for more than 1,300 yards.
Both are contemplating several college offers, but the days of playing on the same team are over. “We’ll be going our separate ways,” said Clay.
It was 13 autumns ago when Lakers football last played for a state title. In 2002, coach Mike Boyd’s squad beat Gaylord St. Mary 13-10 in overtime for the Division 8 crown.
In March, the boys basketball team, coached by Paul Robak, lost by one point in the semifinal to wipe out a season-long quest of becoming the first in school history to play for a state championship.
The girls squad, guided by Steve Robak, won consecutive Class D titles in 2011-12-13.
However — and it’s a big “however” — the future of Lakers football and basketball is a bit dim. There are no junior varsity squads in football or in boys and girls basketball.
“It’s a concern,” said athletic director Mark Smith.
Just four juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen remain from this year’s roster, depleted by 15 graduating seniors.
Coach Josh Sawicki maintains that “we will have 24-26 players … including 11 incoming freshmen and four or five others.”
Not enough bodies turned out for girls and boys basketball JV tryouts.
The problem, Smith said, is retention — retaining eighth-graders to stay at Our Lady of the Lakes for their high school education. Enrollment has slipped each of the last four years to about 160 students.
He’s confident a yearlong revamped and energized recruitment program will be the solution for both athletics and academics for this storied member of the CHSL.
Don Horkey may be reached at email@example.com.