Classic in the Country

Gators dream a little dream and find CitC much to their liking

Dreams do come true, even if it takes awhile to see them come true. And a little bit of persistence sure doesn’t hurt a person’s chances for those dreams coming to fruition.

Shaker Heights Laurel head girls basketball coach Tim McMahon was fully ready to miss yet another Classic in the Country showcase over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend Jan. 13-15.

McMahon’s Gators have been riding high this season, but despite being 11-0 this year and boasting fine records of 21-4, 18-6 and 19-4 over the three prior years, McMahon’s team had not been able to secure an invitation to CitC, one of the nation’s most highly acclaimed girls hoops showcases.

“I have been emailing [CitC] every year, telling them, ‘Hey, we have a pretty good team up here, and we’re getting really close to having something special,’ and even last year I told them, ‘We have actually beaten several teams that are playing at Classic. You gotta get us down there.’”

Still no invitation.

That all changed for this 15th version of CitC, and it changed in the blink of an eye for McMahon and his team. McMahon was preparing his troops to face Kenston on Saturday, Jan. 13 when McMahon received a phone call from Bryce McKey, promoter for CitC.

The situation was dire. A couple of teams had pulled out of the showcase at the last second, and McKey and company were scrambling to find some suitors who would step in last second to fill out the slate of 20 games. The catch was, the invitation came with a caveat: The Gators would have to wait to see if they would play, and that answer may not come until less than 24 hours before they were supposed to play.

McMahon never hesitated. He answered the call and knew a golden opportunity when he heard it.

“Bryce called and told me what was going on with the weather and with the teams in limbo as to whether or not to attend,” McMahon said. “We never hesitated and jumped at the chance to just get on the waiting list. Our coaching staff was 100 percent behind it, our kids were behind it and our administration was fully behind it. From top to bottom it was a united front. If we could make it happen, we were going to make it happen.”

McKey called back and said the Gators were on for game two versus Youngstown Ursuline if they wanted it. Did they ever want it. McMahon said they changed plans on the fly and bussed the team to Berlin early Friday, Jan. 12, ahead of the projected ice and snow that would later pound Amish Country.

“We wanted to make sure we got down here well ahead of the storm because the safety of the kids always comes first,” McMahon said.

McMahon said they initially thought they would play Sheridan, and then he found out it would be Kettering Fairmont before the schedule finally had them locked in against Ursuline. Fortunately both teams were willing to ship film on each other, and the game was on.

The Gators’ first experience in Amish Country was not disappointing.

The Gators came in and put a hurt on Ursuline, grinding out an impressive 55-36 win that was led by freshmen twins Haley and Taylor Thierry and sophomore Giuliana Marinozzi. The Gators played extremely well, something their head coach was very pleased with, all things considered.

“Yeah, you beg to come for years and years, and then you have the pressure of coming in and playing, and if you don’t play well, you look kind of foolish,” McMahon said. “Fortunately our kids made us look really good.”

The other reason McMahon was so pleased was that he finally got to see his kids experience the thrill and excitement of playing hoops in this highly acclaimed showcase.

They spent Friday touring the area and dining on Amish food at the Der Dutchman Restaurant buffet.

The Gators finally had earned their chance to participate in something they have wanted for so long. Sometimes when something is wished for so long, it ends up being a letdown. That was not the case for the Gators.

“It was everything we could have hoped for,” McMahon said of the experience. “It’s hard to appreciate the scale of this event until you actually get here. Our girls were a little unsure with the change of plans and the bus ride and with that weather coming in, but then we walked in, and there are all of these fans and the music, and they take care of you so unbelievably well. I just want our kids and our coaching staff to soak this experience in as much as possible. I am so thrilled that we had this opportunity to experience this.”

McMahon said he doesn’t know what the future will hold for his Gators and a return date to CitC. He said he hopes that between his impressive young talent and their nice showing this year, it has made an impression on McKey and his staff.

“Our back court of two freshmen and a sophomore is really talented,” McMahon said. “Our hope is that we showed enough that we will get an invitation to come back again.”

If the Gators keep playing the way they did in their inaugural visit, the chances of that happening certainly get a lot better.

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