MICHIGAN CITY — Being the youngest of three sisters has allowed Ally McConnell to develop an intensity that shows on the basketball court more than anywhere else.
She hopes to channel that intensity to lead two-time defending Class A state champion Marquette in a new chapter.
“That you can be aggressive,” the senior said of her favorite part of basketball. “And no one's really paying attention to those things, but you can do whatever you want without being reckless and stuff. It is my favorite sport.”
She’s earned 10 varsity letters in her time at Marquette and will finish her prep career as a four-year starter in volleyball, softball and girls basketball. Her leadership helped the volleyball team advance to a sectional championship game, and McConnell is confident in her leadership abilities as the lone senior after last year's team graduated 13 seniors.
“Having everyone looking up to you, asking you questions that they don't know and having them know that you know what you're doing, (and) that you know everything that's going on, and then it just feels good that they can come up to me and ask me questions,” McConnell said.
Having never shot a 3-pointer in her preps career prior to this season, that’s about to change. McConnell had good form in practice and has worked on developing an all-around game after being a strong post presence off the bench.
“She did a great job backing up our other post players in the years past, but now she knows that she's ready to be the go-to player,” coach Katie Collignon said. “She's worked extremely hard the past three years to get to where she is right now. She's a force to be reckoned with inside and outside. So I think I'm really excited to see her game really evolve and just kind of have her opportunities that are there for this year.”
McConnell was key to the 2018 championship run. As a sophomore, she was called into action when Sophia and Emma Nolan were battling foul trouble. McConnell didn’t score but her five rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots were key to the first state title, a 38-31 win over Vincennes Rivet. Last season, she had two points and two rebounds in the Blazers' 57-36 repeat win over Rivet.
“Ally’s a fighter,” Collignon said. “I think that's what you're gonna see a little bit more this year, I think in years past it came out in games when she had to have it but I think she's gonna have it every game this year, and then she’s going to bring that leadership. So I'm really excited to watch her kind of have that fighting attitude every single night.”
Her varsity experience alone is something for the underclassmen to lean on. It’s a different speed and pace between junior varsity and varsity levels.
“(Ally) really knows like what to expect with how girls are going to be down in the paint and how they're going to guard and how they're going to play defense and … where girls if they're wide open, or barely, they're going to shoot,” junior Ryleigh Grott said. “So she knows exactly what varsity players are like where, you know, when we've all been on JV and, if they were just little open, they wouldn't shoot. She knows how the game is. She's gonna help us through the whole time.”
Grott has a perspective that McConnell once held, when she watched the Nolan twins — who are now playing at St. John’s — from the bench until her number was called on in a minor role. Last season Grott played in 14 games.
“As a freshman I came in and I didn’t get that much playing time but I got to sit the bench and I got to see it, whereas (Ally) got the same experience,” Grott said. “So she knows the same process that I went through … even last year, she got playing time, but not as much as the Nolan twins. And even when she went in, she still did her very best, and I still will do that like she did.”
McConnell is the key to the Blazers’ ignition and she’s going to unleash the next chapter of Marquette girls basketball.
“I'm just kind of excited to watch to see what they bring and what kind of style they accept and they want to play,” Collignon said. “But I'm excited, just to have them all have their own opportunities. You know, they've kind of had to be in the shadows of those teams the past two years and I'm excited for them to get the opportunity to get out there and kind of show them what kind of players they are.”