Senior Sophie Mariani leads Lady Bucs with one-of-a-kind versatility


Maddie Monroe

Senior Sophie Mariani sets up on the wing during the Bucs recent away contest against West Ottawa.

Sam Woiteshek, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Standing tall, senior Sophie Marini surveys the room. Anxiously waiting, she spots her interviewer at a nearby table. All of a sudden, the stern, battle-ready face she makes implies that she’s in the “zone” – and she’s not coming out of it.

Later that night, out on the court against Caledonia, that same look is transfixed on Mariani’s face. When a Fighting Scot misses a shot, almost instinctively Mariani pries the ball away for a rebound. As teammate Alli Keyser speeds up the court, Mariani heaves the ball to her in stride, for a sharp dime of a pass. This quarterback-wide receiver type of connection isn’t out of the ordinary, its business as usual for Mariani.

Perhaps this is why she is such a force on the floor. Always giving one-hundred percent and a fierce attitude, Mariani has become a staple of the Lady Bucs’ offense.

She has surely left her mark on the program. A three-year varsity player, Mariani’s endless pursuit of excellence is what will be celebrated for her successful career as a Buccaneer.

“She’s really worked hard at her game,” her coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “She’s one of the best players in the O-K Red and you don’t get to that point without a lot of hard work.”

Her work ethic has translated into unprecedented versatility.

As a sophomore, she was primarily a post player who worked close to the basket. As a junior, she moved the wing where she played on the perimeter. Coming into senior year, she expected to retain that position.

However, when two key players, junior Kelly Olthof and junior Esther Byington, were lost to injuries, Mariani was thrust to the 5 position – or what’s more commonly known as center. She’ll admit that it wasn’t her choice, but it was what was best for her squad.

“I think everyone on our team has their own role and you can’t really decide that role for yourself; it’s brought upon you,” she said. “I didn’t pick this position but since I’ve put in this position I am just trying to succeed.”

Learning a new role in a short time has shown hard work, grit and a unconditional commitment to the team. All of which has reflected off of her teammates.

“It made us all a lot more confident with so many games left in the season to know we had a player that could fill the positions of the players we lost,” senior Autumn Buikema said. “To know she would still continue to play poised despite switching positions so often.

Not only has Mariani impacted her team through her skillfulness and flexibility, but her leadership has played a major role too.

“She’s a great leader,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “She’s a quiet leader, she leads by example in practice. She’s very well-liked – she’s just a great teammate.”

Voted as two-year captain by her peers, that statement rings true. Yet, Mariani’s quest for perfection of leadership hasn’t ceased.

“I’ve been trying to talk more on the floor,” Mariani explained. “Keep everyone in the same mindset, keep our goals in line, so I think maybe taking that position has helped me with that because I’ve been put out of my place and been outside my comfort zone.”

So far, the feeling of comfort and Sophie Mariani haven’t mixed well. In fact, she thrives best when comfort isn’t an option.

“Her sophomore year on varsity we played Spring Lake and it [was] first time we had played them since 1998,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “She scored the game-winning basket with about six seconds on the clock. She got an offensive rebound and put back for the win. It was a packed house and it was cool.”

Fast forward to now and sophomore year seems like a distant memory for Mariani, who is now planning to go to Michigan State and travel abroad. Although she’s not planning to play college basketball, it doesn’t mean her love for the game will fade.

In fact, as she remembered her stint with the Lady Bucs, she attributed her passion to one person.

“I would definitely have to give credit to my JV coach [Corky Nyssen],” Mariani said. “ I credit all my basketball to her. She’s like the “basketball master.” She knows everything and basically has taught me my entire game.”

With Mariani’s legacy cemented, it will be another coach that will have a hard time replacing her.

“You can’t say enough about her,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “She’s put in a ton of time, she’s really coachable – she’s been a pleasure to coach and is a great kid and great teammate. She will definitely be missed.”