By Nate Thompson
NORTON SHORES – Senior Riley Rosenthal and the Mona Shores girls basketball team know a thing or two about perseverance.
The growing pains of competing at the varsity level, and the trials and tribulations of two seasons dampened by the Covid-19 pandemic, haven’t killed the drive for Rosenthal and the Sailors – those tests have only made the team stronger.
“I was pulled up (to varsity) half way through my freshman season, and it was rough,” Rosenthal admitted. “We were below .500. The next season, we still had some struggles. We only had one senior.
“It was the last five or six games of last season that we started to make some big improvements and started to get some attention. That motivated us. We realized we could be that team that everyone is scared of.”
Mona Shores won five straight games to close its regular season a year ago, then gave rival Muskegon everything it could handle before falling in the district semifinals.
This season, the 5-foot-10 Rosenthal and a strong class of senior teammates have helped make the Sailors very good, just like Rosenthal projected. Behind an extremely balanced scoring attack and an intimidating front court defensively, Mona Shores won its first seven games.
Following an upset loss to rival Reeths-Puffer on Tuesday, the Sailors are 9-2 overall, but are still in the mix for an O-K Green conference championship, and are considered favorites to capture their first Class A district championship since 2017, when Miss Basketball winner Jordan Walker was running the show.
Rosenthal, who could be perfectly labeled as a stretch forward, will be one of the key factors if the Sailors end up hoisting championship trophies.
She said her team’s biggest issue is overcoming scoring droughts, but at the same time, they have a number of players who can get hot from the field in any given contest. Rosenthal is one of four Sailors who average seven or more points, and she currently leads the team at 11.5 points per game, along with 5.9 rebounds and two steals.
“She loves to play in the paint, but even though she’s taller, she can still stretch out and hit the 3-point shot,” said Mike Phillips, Mona Shores’ third-year head coach. “That makes her an unbelievably tough player to guard. But the number one thing about Riley is her drive. She wants to be number one no matter which drill it is. And that will to win rubs off on her teammates.”
Rosenthal said she grew up playing travel soccer and volleyball with close friends and teammates Brooke LeRoux and Bri Wade, but her passion for basketball came from watching and playing against her brothers, Ben, who is a sophomore in college, and younger brother Trent, a freshman at Mona Shores.
Fellow seniors LeRoux and Wade both specialize in other sports, but both excel in basketball, along with Rosenthal.
LeRoux, who stands 5-11, and Wade, who is 6-1, each average around seven points per game, while the Sailors’ top guard and ball-handler, 5-7 junior point guard Olivia Sobczak, pours in about 10 points a contest.
Rosenthal said a key strength of the group is something that doesn’t show up in the box score.
“Our bond outside of the court is just so strong, just because a lot of us have grown up playing together in different sports,” she said. “We work so well together and trust each other on offense and defense.”
Even with COVID-19 keeping the Sailors out of the Sailor Center last summer, it didn’t restrict them from focusing on the sport.
“We stayed connected,” Rosenthal said. “Even during the two months where everything was shut down, we continued to play basketball. We learned the plays and drills through zoom calls. That kept us motivated.”
Phillips said the senior group has an unbreakable focus that he first noticed when they were still in middle school. He said their strong performance this season has not been a surprise.
“It’s such a phenomenal group of kids,” he said. “They’re completely unselfish in that they don’t care who scores, they just want to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s the last kid on the team. They don’t care if they score or not, all they want is success for others.”
“I’ve been around a lot of these girls since they were playing in elementary school,” he added. “I was watching them in Saturday afternoon ball games. To see their continued determination and the parental support throughout the years, it’s special. I could see this coming for a long time, since they were in fifth, sixth grade. (Their success) isn’t surprising, because I could see it from the inside.”