A day after her freshman basketball season at Loyola (Md.) ended, Kara Marshall sat in the stands during the Maryland 4A West girls’ basketball final, blending into the throng of blue-and-gold clad Gaithersburg fans filling one side of the Blair gymnasium.
Last year Marshall ran the Trojans’ uptempo attack, handling point guard duties on a squad that blew through the season with 25 double-digit wins en route to the school’s first state title. Now the 2011 All-Met watched as her sister Colleen deftly commanded the Gaithersburg offense in a 53-45 win over Northwest on Saturday, pulling the Trojans through a rough shooting start with eight first-quarter points on the way to a team-high 16 for the game.
Third-ranked Gaithersburg came into the season with a decidedly different look after losing its top two scorers in Kara Marshall and guard Sarah Seipp (Virginia Wesleyan). Thanks in large part to Colleen Marshall’s seamless move to the point, the Trojans have rarely slowed down in continuing their unbeaten run. They have a 50-game winning streak, heading into Thursday’s state semifinal matchup with unbeaten Poly (23-0) at UMBC.
“This is the player she’s always been,” Kara Marshall said, “but with me and Sarah not being there, it’s really showing now.”
A member of the varsity squad since her first workout with Gaithersburg, Colleen Marshall found plenty of opportunities to showcase her offensive skills right away. She averaged double-digit scoring in each of her first three seasons, but playing with the Trojans required an adjustment.
Growing up, she had always played point guard, relishing the opportunity to set the pace and create offense for herself and teammates. With Kara entrenched as the team’s ballhandler, Colleen — the youngest of seven children — became a shooting guard.
After falling in the Maryland 4A title game in 2010, Gaithersburg got another boost when forward Jackie Jackson transferred from Holy Cross before last season. The Trojans sent Kara Marshall out in style with a perfect season, finishing with a dominating 58-38 win over Wise in the state final.
“It was easy to be more of a role player rather than a person that takes control,” said Colleen Marshall, who missed the first five games last season after surgery to repair torn ligaments in both ankles. “There was no need for it. Most schools in the county and even the state don’t have four talented players like we did last year.”
Kara Marshall moved on to Loyola where she averaged 11 points per game for the Greyhounds this winter to earn a spot on the conference All-Rookie team, while Colleen Marshall has thrived in a more familiar role for the Trojans, increasing her scoring as a senior to a team-best 17.9 points per game to help continue the area’s longest winning streak.
Marshall showcased her newfound attitude early in the season when she scored a career-high 32 points in a 44-36 win over Churchill on a night when her teammates combined for just four field goals. She’s hit the 20-point mark 10 times this season.
Jackson — a Temple recruit — has also upped her scoring from 12.9 to 17.1 points per game this season.
“We needed someone to make it happen, make plays happen,” Colleen Marshall said. “Whatever needed to be done, I wanted to be able to do it.”
“She knows when times are rough, she has to step up and take over the team,” Coach Adrian McDaniel added.
All the while, the sisters — who try to talk either by phone or video chat every other day — continue to provide each other valuable support, on and off the court. They both credit the bond with helping them adjust to their new situations this season, though they will soon be even farther apart when Colleen heads to East Carolina in the fall.
While several schools pursued both sisters in the early going, they agreed it didn’t make sense to fight for playing time running the offense at the next level. Colleen never seriously considered Loyola before choosing the Pirates over Hartford, Delaware and American, among others.
“I understand that she wants to go and do her own thing,” Kara Marshall said. “We’re so close. We’re still going to be best friends and sisters.”
With Loyola on spring break this week, Kara plans to be in the stands at UMBC’s RAC Arena as Colleen’s career comes to a close.
When the final horn sounded on Gaithersburg’s championship win last season, Kara, predictably, had the ball in her hands with Colleen and Seipp close by. Kara hurled the ball down court and the three bounced in place, beginning the long-awaited title celebration.
Colleen Marshall said her career won’t feel complete without one more moment like that, the chance to close her career with a win just like her older sister.
“That’s all I want,” Colleen Marshall said. “Anything less is going to be a disappointment. In my mind, we’re not going to lose.”