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PURRR-FECT START: Improved ‘Cats display potential in opener

 PURRR-FECT START: Improved ‘Cats display potential in opener

Senior Elena DiMaria banks in two of her eight points during Plymouth’s season-opening win over Gibraltar Carlson. PHOTO: VASILNEK IMAGES

The optimal way for a high school basketball team to put a forgettable season in the rear-view mirror is to open the next campaign with a lights-out performance.

Case in point: the 2023-24 Plymouth’s girls basketball team, which debuted Wednesday night with a never-in-doubt 52-21 triumph over Gibraltar Carlson.

Showcasing crisp perimeter passing, lock-down defense and precision shooting, the Wildcats appear primed to far exceed the expectations delivered by the KLAA coaches’ pre-season poll, which picked them to finish eighth in the eight-team West Division.

“We have a lot of kids back from a team that struggled a year ago,” said ninth-year Plymouth Head Coach Ryan Ballard. “We had the youngest team in the league by far last year and we took our lumps, due in part to some key injuries that hurt us.

“It was interesting heading into this summer to see what we’d look like, and the kids answered the bell. The girls worked incredibly hard during the summer and fall to put themselves into a position to have a really good year.”

Sign of things to come?

Wednesday’s emphatic win, which featured balanced scoring and relentless effort, could prove to be a microcosm of the Wildcats’ upcoming season.

Plymouth sophomore point guard Mackenzie Dicken drains a three PHOTO VASILNEK IMAGES
Plymouth sophomore point guard Mackenzie Dicken drains a three PHOTO VASILNEK IMAGES

Sophomore guard Mackenzie Dicken topped the scoring ledger with 14 points, followed by fellow 10th-grader Annie Flavin’s 12. Elena DiMaria (eight rebounds, four blocked shots) and Olivia Maciag both added eight points.

“I like how unselfish we are,” said senior forward Zaynab Saab, who grabbed seven rebounds and contributed three steals. “We’re going to get the ball up the court fast in transition, too. As far as passing, we move the ball well — it doesn’t get stuck in our hands.”

Saab revealed the Wildcats’ improvement can be traced back to a lot of hard work throughout the off-season, including meeting in the gym at 6 a.m. on Saturdays for shooting sessions.

The ‘Cats will also be bolstered by some intangibles that don’t show up in the post-game boxscores.

Advanced-placement chemistry

“This team is super-together; we have great chemistry,” said DiMaria, a returning All-KLAA selection who has received an offer to play beginning next season for Macomb Community College.

“We focus on the positives and we push each other to get better every game, every practice.”

Sophomore Annie Flavin lays in two of her 12 points
Sophomore Annie Flavin lays in two of her 12 points

Flavin, a sophomore who earned Division 1 All-State golf accolades following a sixth-place individual showing at the state meet, is primed to become a difference-maker for Plymouth this season after splitting her freshman season between the junior varsity and varsity squads.

“Annie is playing with a lot of confidence this year,” Ballard raved. “She’s such a competitive kid; she doesn’t back down from anyone; and she’s made excellent strides, both at the offensive and defensive ends of the court.”

Pivotal point guard

Ballard shared high praise of Dicken, the rare sophomore point guard who has the skills to control the pace of a game, regardless of the opponent.

“Plymouth has had two All-State point guards the past nine years — Kyra Brandon, who was an elite passer, and Chantal LeDoux, who was an elite scorer — and Mackenzie is a mix of both of them,” Ballard said. “She can score, she’s a great passer and her mid-range game is elite.

“Her dad and uncle are both coaches (uncle Shaun Dicken is the head coach for Northville’s girls basketball team and her dad Chad is a Mustangs assistant coach), which is one reason her basketball IQ is so high. What really makes Mackenzie special, though, is how unselfish she plays. She makes everyone around her better and her teammates love going into battle with her.”

Gritty wins

Saab is the Wildcats’ blue-collar player — a do-the-little-things contributor that every high-achieving squad needs to succeed.

“To sum up Zaynab, she’s a gritty player who does what it takes to win,” Ballard said. “She dives for loose balls, takes a charge, gets tough rebounds. If we win games this season, it’s because Zaynab has done all the little things that fans may not appreciate as much as the head coach.”

Plymouth’s roster is stuffed with a cast of supporting players who bring their own essential skills sets to the court.

Junior Olivia Maciag, Ballard noted, was the team’s most-efficient three-point shooter last season (38%).

“Olivia also finds ways to get to the basket and finish — and her on-ball defense has improved immensely.”

Non-stop competitors

The team’s most-improved player, in Ballard’s estimation, is Evelyn Stiglish, who he noted is “an excellent communicator on the defensive end. She’s one of those players who competes every second of every play.”

Kasey Wilson looks for an open teammate
Kasey Wilson looks for an open teammate PHOTO VASILNEK IMAGES

And Kasey Wilson is “that annoying, pesky guard that bothers whomever she’s guarding.”

“Kasey is probably the best defensive communicator I’ve ever coached,” Ballard said. “Whenever she’s in the game, you know where she is.”

Ballard said the collective talent level of the three Plymouth-Canton Educational Park teams is the highest he’s seen in his nine years at Plymouth.

“There have been years when one or two of the teams have been really good, but maybe the third team was down for whatever reason,” he said. “But this year all three programs are strong. Salem’s Madison Morson may be the best player at the Park since Salem’s Dena Head, Canton is really good and we’re much-improved from last year.

“It should be a fun season.”

Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or


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