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Southfield A&T's semifinal surge never comes, if Warriors hadn't eventually grown together WITH PHOTO GALLERY

  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • A long pass is just out of the grasp of Southfield A&T's Alexis Johnson (24). The Warriors cut a 20-point deficit down to two before losing 55-51 to East Kentwood at MSU's Jack Breslin Student Events Center on Friday, March 17, 2017. (MIPrepZone photo by Matthew B. Mowery)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)
  • The Southfield A&T Warriors were defeated in the MHSAA Class A State semi-final game by East Kentwood 55-51. The game was played on Friday March 17, 2017 at The Breslin Center in East Lansing. (MIPrepZone photo by Ken Swart)

EAST LANSING >> The ball rolled innocuously toward the mid-court stripe, as if nobody wanted to claim it.

Until, that is, D’Layna Holliman came sailing through the air, horizontal to the floor, selling out her body, landing with her arms around the loose ball, to make sure it ended up in her team’s hands.

Her lead pass resulted in a layup for Deja Church, a key play in the Class A semifinals.

Twelve months ago, if you’d told Holliman that a pass she threw would get points for Church, it might’ve been grounds for considering the administration of a message-sending hard foul. Or at least delivering a back-shivering glare.

“First of all, I didn’t like Church at all. I ain’t gonna lie to you. She was a Charger, I was a Bluejay,” Holliman said Saturday, after that play. “It was ‘the rivalry.’”

“Now we’re sisters for life,” Church interjected with a playful grin.

“Now I’m gonna miss this girl right here, man,” Holliman finished.

Skip back four days, to the quarterfinals vs. Ann Arbor Huron.

Fourth quarter, and ball-hounding point guard Tyler Washington turned her opponent toward the sideline, baiting the trap that would result in a key turnover.

At the end of the play, she and Church ended up face-to-face, screaming.

Twelve months ago, admittedly, there might’ve been a word or two in that face-to-face confrontation that would make you blush.

Now, it was shrieks of pure, unadulterated joy, as the Southfield A&T teammates celebrated one of the key plays that ensured the Warriors’ trip to the Breslin Center in their first year of existence as a program.

“It’s been really fun, coming from different schools,” Church said after the team’s loss in the semifinals, sitting at the podium with Washington and Holliman, her co-captains. “I’m not going to lie: At first, I didn’t like the Bluejays, my two Bluejays over here, but we went through our ups and downs and, at the end of the day, we’re teammates, and we’re sisters.”

For any program that makes it through six rounds of play to make it all the way to the semifinals, there has to be a mix of talent and determination. And always a little bit of luck.

For A&T to make it there? Considering the not-so-friendly nature of the rivalry they’d grown up accustomed to?

Well, that’s darned near a miracle.

Put it this way: Nobody ever questioned the assembled talent wearing A&T’s red, white and blue colors. Not with a Miss Basketball finalist in Church, the University of Michigan signee who was the defending Class A co-player of the Year for the state, as well as Oakland County’s 2016 Player of the Year.

Not with two other potential, down-the-road Division I players in sophomore Alexis Johnson and freshman Cheyenne McEvans. Not with solid, experienced varsity starters like Washington and Holliman, who’d been through the Oakland Activities Association wars.

But a team?

They weren’t that to start the season, when the programs from Southfield High and Southfield-Lathrup merged together into one (theoretically cohesive) school.

Talented, yes. Together, no.

At any point along the way, the powder keg of a situation could’ve blown up.

The fact that it didn’t is as impressive as where the Warriors ultimately found themselves.

“We’ve had a very good season, through the adversity of merging two schools. I can’t speak enough about how proud I am of them, in everything they’ve given this program,” A&T coach Michele Marshall said after the semifinal loss to East Kentwood, in which the Warriors got behind by 20, then stormed back to make it a two-point game, before falling short. “They have nothing to hang their heads on. I told them in the locker room, they played so hard, and we — as a city, as a school, and as a coaching staff — are so proud of them.”

It could’ve blown up when there was a flap over which of the former coaches — Lathrup’s Marshall or Southfield’s Jamie Glinz — was to coach the team. Initially, Glinz was given the job, then Marshall.

To Glinz’s credit, he became one of the team’s most dedicated fans — from afar, where he wouldn't be a distraction — sitting in the crowd for many a key game.

It could’ve blown up when roles were being established — and some different from what they’d known before. Washington was always a glue player — staunch defender and ballhandler — for the Bluejays, but Holliman was a scorer for Southfield.

Would she buy into not scoring as much, for the sake of the team? To win?

Look no further than her body-sacrificing plays in each of the last three games for A&T for your answer.

“D’Layna's a kid who, as I watched her last year, I knew she was a kid who put up numbers. And as you add Deja to this team, and as you add a freshman, Cheyenne McEvans to this team, D’Layna willingly, her numbers went down some. Her scoring went down some. But her role became so much bigger. She did this in the quarterfinal game, and she did it in the regional final,” Marshall said. “She’s done everything I’ve asked her to do — diving on the floor, rebounding like she’s 6-foot-7, as opposed to maybe 5-7. It just encapsulates what she’s been for this team.

“These two are seniors, Tyler and Church, and it was an easy go to know that they were going to be my captains, but I went to D’Layna, and I said, ‘She’s the heartbeat and the energy of this team.’ So when you see her diving on the floor, you see here rebounding on kids that are tons taller than her, it shows you the heart and determination of this young lady.”

Midseason, it became clear that the coaching staff — and the captains, Church, Washington and Holliman, who’d first had to put their own minor animosities aside — were getting through to the Warriors (no longer Bluejays or Chargers), and it was becoming a team.

“The team just blended in the middle of the season, and really just came together. Everybody calling this, us coming to the Breslin, an upset, we didn’t think it was an upset. We knew we were going to be here. That’s the mindset we had. We were just playing together, and feeling like nobody could stop us,” Holliman said. “It was bad today, but we’re still going to have each other’s back after this one, too.

“I love this girl right here (Church), because, again, I didn’t like her at all. But we came together, the Bluejays and the two Chargers.

“We’re A&T now. We’re all together now.”

Her coach echoed the sentiment.

“The one thing that I love about the kids that I inherited from Southfield High, is that they play with a chip on their shoulder, they believe anything is possible. After we started to blend together, and we understood that we were going to be one as a team, my coaching staff felt that we definitely could get to the Breslin. And it didn’t matter to us whether or not anybody gave us that opportunity, or thought that we could get there — we believed that we would get there. But we knew it had to be with us all working hard together. So about halfway through the season, things started to click, and we started to be on one accord, and it was then that I looked at (assistant Cynthia) Maxwell and said that ‘This is really possible,’ to get there and win a state championship,” Marshall said.

“We fell short of the state championship, but make no mistake about it: I’m more proud of this team than probably any team I’ve ever coached.”

Last Updated: 3/20/2017 7:13:04 PM EST


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