MICHIGAN CITY — Amani Corral had to grow up faster than her peers.
When a high school kid has a job, it's hard to find a balance between work and school. For the Marquette Catholic senior, it's been finding that balance among school, work and playing for one of the top basketball teams in the state.
"Coach (Katie) Collignon has been very understanding of it and never got on me because she understood that I had to do it for my family," Corral said.
Influenced by cousins and Marquette students Lauren and Ally McConnell, Corral came over after her freshman year from Hobart, where her aunt Amanda was a standout basketball player before going on to Northern Illinois.
With the transfer came increased financial burden on the family. Corral's mom, Andrea Rodriguez, even picked up a second job to help her go to Marquette with her step-dad working at Ameristar Casino in East Chicago. Having seen the effort put forth for her to attend school, Corral found a job as a waitress at Denny's in Portage.
"I didn't want her to work two jobs just so I can come here," she said. "I knew that I had to step up and get some money myself to come here and to help out financially and now she only works the one job. She always felt bad, saying she was taking away my childhood, but I never really cared because I was helping her and helping her was my main priority."
With the job came certain parts of the year when Corral had to work. She missed Marquette's holiday tournaments Dec. 27 through 30 and a handful of other weekend games.
"It was different," Collignon said. "She was very honest with me when the season started, telling me everything she has to do, and as long as she was open with me, that was fine. She tried to make one tourney and couldn't because she had family stuff and I told her to just do what you need to do. The girls have understood that too. We missed her and we're happy to have her back."
With 7- and 8-year old brothers Andrew and Rafael still attending school in Hobart and her step-dad working midnights, Corral has also been tasked with getting them to school. Taking care of her brothers is something she cherishes, accepting the sacrifices that have come with it.
"It all has forced me to grow up a little faster, definitely," she said. "I forced myself to mature for my brothers so I could be a better role model for them. I hung out with my friends all the time freshman year and now I'm always with my brothers, just so I can give them someone to look up to."
Corral has appeared in 11 games for the Blazers, averaging 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Her season-high eight points came on senior night against Lighthouse on Jan. 27.
"I started, and I just started playing so well and it was because of the girls. Their energy and their positive vibes just made me want to play harder," she said. "After that, coach Collignon joked saying, 'We're gonna start a GoFundMe so you don't have to work anymore!'"
As one of two seniors, along with starter Mackenzie Marovich, it's Corral's mindset that Collignon truly covets.
"Amani doesn't know that she's going to get in every game but she's such an excitable and energetic kid and the girls just love her," Collignon said. "She's a positive kid who will work hard every day and when you have that from a senior, other girls fall in line with that and think, 'If she can be that happy and work that hard and maybe get five minutes in a game, then what's my excuse?' She's been a game changer for us with just her mentality. I think that has stepped up everybody else's game, as well."
Corral has appeared in five of Marquette's six postseason games. She scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds against Oregon-Davis in the regional semifinals and had four points and five boards vs. Tri-Central in the semistate.
"She's really been there for us since that Lighthouse game and has done a great job bringing energy and allowing some depth in our post position," Collignon said. "She's been totally committed since and she's really happy she stuck with it and I am, too. We always talk about the little things, the extra things that'll get more minutes on the floor, and it's always rebounding with me.
"She's a scrapper and she's a competitive kid and I trust her when she gets in the game that she's going to work extremely hard. She's undersized at 5-foot-5 and might not have all the basketball skills our other players might have but she's going to work her tail off."
Being with her brothers as much as she has, Corral's interest in being an elementary school teacher piqued. She hopes to attend Indiana Northwest for a couple years and perhaps transfer to the main campus. Until then, she'll just be happy being part of a potential state champion.
"It feels unreal almost and feels so special to be with the girls that I love so much and to go with them is an amazing opportunity," she said. "I'm nervous but I know we got this. I have faith in those girls and all of us. We're definitely ready to get it done and show Indiana who we are."
Scouting the 2018 Marquette Catholic girls basketball team
CJ grew up shadowing his father, Jim, at various prep events and now follows in his footsteps as a sports reporter at The Times. A Purdue University graduate, his allegiances lie with the Boilermakers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds.
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