Marmion makes impressive return to Plano tourney

Jabe Haith soared in for a breakaway dunk, and the lanky 6-foot-3 Marmion senior played to the crowd by pushing his two arms up in a raise the roof gesture.

Haith and the Cadets seemed to play with sheer joy Tuesday. And with good reason.

"We got 18 guys on our team and none of us have played in a Christmas tournament in four years of high school," Haith said. "This is everybody's first one."

It's a startling admission from a senior, but no surprise why. Holiday tournaments statewide were canceled two seasons ago due to COVID precautions. Last year, Marmion was prevented from playing at Christmas because of a COVID pause.

But the Cadets made a smashing debut on the holiday tournament scene Tuesday, and return to the Plano Christmas Classic for the first time since 1975. Second-seeded Marmion put on a rollicking show of fast breaks, dunks, and 3-pointers, overwhelming Morris 65-36 in the first-round game.

"We were excited, especially with the atmosphere too," said Haith, who scored a game-high 17 points with two of Marmion's dunks. "We were having so much fun, even before the game. Everybody was locked in. We want to be here, and we want to compete for a championship."

It's been almost 50 years since Marmion had played in Plano, but it has a history there. The Cadets won back-to-back Classic titles in 1974-1975.

None of these current Marmion players have been back here, but second-year coach Joe Piekarz has. He coached Indian Creek at the Classic, and was eager to bring his group to a field that includes Class 3A stalwarts Peoria Notre Dame, Burlington Central and Kaneland.

"We always had a great experience here at Indian Creek and I thought it was a good tournament to be a part of," Piekarz said. "I thought it would be a really good matchup for us to be here and have our guys get this experience. It's a bunch of teams we never get to play, which is good for us."

Marmion (9-3) wasted no time showcasing its dynamic defense to offense transition game that could be a problem for opponents all week.

Haith scored on a runout a minute in, then made a pullup 3-pointer in transition for a quick 7-0 lead. Trevon Roots, a bouncy 6-foot-5 senior who had 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, later threw down a dunk in transition, then had a tip dunk of a Haith miss as part of a 17-3 blitz.

"They create points in transition off the pressure defense, they create points in transition with a really quick first step and they find each other advancing," Morris coach Joe Blumberg said. "That's a very good team, best team we've seen this year."

Senior guard Collin Wainscott got in on the act with 11 of his 13 points and three of his four 3-pointers in the first quarter. His third, a deep one from in front of the Morris bench, had Marmion ahead 25-5 after a quarter, a lead that eventually swelled to 35 in the third quarter on a Haith dunk.

"We started off playing as a team, getting in transition - we came out ready to play," Wainscott said. "Our goal is to win this tournament. We made a statement this first game."

And the Cadets did so playing fast, free and with fun - easy when you're winning but Piekarz is used to seeing it from this connected group.

"They play well together, and they trust each other," Piekarz said. "They're not scared to share the ball because they know it will come back to them and they love to play defense. You got a team like that that likes to play defense that helps. They get rolling and it's a fun thing to watch. There is no point in slowing them down."

Jack Wheeler scored nine points and Gage Phillips had six for Morris (3-8), which plays Lisle in a 9 a.m. consolation bracket game Wednesday.

"Quick turnaround," Blumberg said. "Those 9 a.m. games are wildcard games. It's an opportunity for our young team to grow."

Marmion, meanwhile, advances to play Ottawa in Wednesday's second round. Looking ahead, Haith would love a crack at top-seeded and defending champ Burlington Central in the final. He went to grade school in the Burlington district before going to Elgin Academy and then to Marmion.

"I've been thinking about playing them for four years since I left," Haith said. "It's a good opportunity. Last year could have happened in regionals. I'm looking forward to it if it happens."

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