More than one person has walked up to Danielle Marrone this year and asked about her eligibility.
“People keep telling me that they thought I already graduated,” the Central Fellowship point guard said.
Marrone and fellow senior Mandy Spencer do, in fact, have some eligibility left. It just seems as though the duo has been a mainstay on the basketball court since the Reagan administration.
“We’ve played a lot of basketball,” Marrone said. “But it’s sad that it will come to an end soon. We’ve had a lot of fun over the years.”
Marrone and Spencer don’t have much left to see.
The longtime teammates have started around 200 basketball games combined during the past five years. That experience has helped turn the top-ranked Lancers (22-2) into championship contenders.
Marrone and Spencer have been in the lineup long enough to watch the shift in GISA power. When they were freshmen, Stratford was near the end of a dominant championship run. Deerfield-Windsor, George Walton, FPD and Pinewood Christian fielded powerful teams during the past few years.
Now, as seniors, Marrone and Spencer lead a team considered by some to be the front-runner in Class AAA this season.
“There used to be a mind-set that when we played Stratford, we were losing that game,” said Marrone, who averages 15.6 points and 3.8 assists per game. “But now that we have won games against some of those teams, we have more confidence. It’s kind of weird to think that we are the team expected to win.”
Despite the experience, the Lancers are still earning some firsts this season. They won at Deerfield-Windsor for the first time in school history. They have defeated Mount de Sales twice and have wins over FPD, Stratford and Westfield. Very few — if any — CFCA teams have had this much success against rival Bibb County schools. CFCA would love to add another first. The Lancers have never won a GISA championship.
“That’s our goal,” said Spencer, who is second in the GISA with 17.2 points per game. “It has been since the end of last season.”
The Lancers suffered a bitter end to their 2007-08 season when they lost 46-40 to FPD in the state semifinals. Spencer and Marrone were suspended for the first quarter and the Lancers fell behind by 14 points. Both feel like the outcome could have been different if they had that quarter back.
“It still bothers me every day,” Spencer said.
Said Marrone, “I don’t like losing period. But I know we could have helped. I felt it was our fault, and we blew it.”
The Lancers used the disappointing loss as motivation throughout the summer. It drove Marrone and Spencer to work harder, and the rest of the team used the loss to improve and make the Lancers much more versatile than in years past.
Tia Rogers, Brittany Everett, Kyndal Foster, Amanda Phillips and Allison Lones have all become viable scoring options and made it tougher for opposing defenses to focus their attention on Marrone and Spencer.
“We are a team,” CFCA head coach Matt Chambless said. “Danielle and Mandy are two talented players who have a lot of experience and lead us. But we are confident in every player we put on the court.”
But when it comes down to the end of the game, either Marrone or Spencer is likely to see the ball. That won’t surprise any opponents.
Spencer is closing in on 2,000 career points and became school’s all-time leading scorer as a junior. Marrone has a nice touch from the 3-point line. Plus, every other team in the league has been playing against the duo for a long time.