Home Sports Column: Oak Lawn’s Mia Kennelly steps up to challenge of starting right away as a college freshman. ‘Mia’s tough.’

Column: Oak Lawn’s Mia Kennelly steps up to challenge of starting right away as a college freshman. ‘Mia’s tough.’

by staff

Setting a bar and reaching it. Making a promise and keeping it.

This is the story of former Oak Lawn girls basketball standout Mia Kennelly’s first season at St. Francis.

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Kennelly told me about a conversation she had with Saints coach John McGinty before the season. It had to do with playing time.

He didn’t sugarcoat it. But he did give her something to aim at.

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“What he said basically was, ‘Show us what you can do in practice, and from there, you’ll earn your time,’” Kennelly said. “I knew I would be one of the youngest on the team, but I always worked hard. That was one of my key features at Oak Lawn.

“We had a couple of fifth-year seniors coming back and I was eager to play with them over the summer. I wanted to learn a lot of things from the older girls.”

She learned a lot. And she showed ‘em, all right. McGinty noticed and started Kennelly in St. Francis’ first game against Madonna.

Talk about a man of his word.

“I think coach (Mark) Sevedge over at Oak Lawn prepared her quite a bit for this,” McGinty said. “She was just outworking everybody and earned that starting spot over some players who have quite a bit of college experience.”

Kennelly played a whopping 19 minutes. She scored five points and grabbed four rebounds.

Now, this isn’t a complete fairy tale come true. Kennelly doesn’t start every game for the Saints. She’s averaging around 17 minutes to go along with 5.3 points. Her 13 steals ranks third on the team.

The high points have been two games where she scored in double figures. In Wednesday’s night’s 72-70 win over Indiana South Bend, she had eight points and six rebounds and played 34 minutes.

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Oak Lawn's Mia Kennelly (23) tries to get off a shot against Oak Forest's Janae Kent (34) during a game on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022.

McGinty is still noticing the work ethic.

“Mia’s tough,” McGinty said. “I think what separates her from some of our other newcomers is she goes in and really plays hard at a pace that you have to be able to adjust to at the college level.

“She doesn’t shy away from any of the physicality of the college game. She catches on very quickly to different principles. And she goes 100% all the time. She doesn’t let anybody outwork her in any facet.”

Gee, where have we seen that before?

Kennelly was the heart and soul of Oak Lawn’s program during her four-year varsity career. She was a total stat sheet stuffer, always at or near the top of the team leaders in points, 3-pointers, rebounds, assists and steals.

As a junior and senior, Kennelly was the South Suburban Red’s player of the year and also an all-area selection.

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This doesn’t happen by chance.

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I remember talking with Kennelly during her junior season. She told me for the preceding two summers, she had made something like 15,000 shots either at her house, a friend’s house or in Oak Lawn’s gym.

Oak Lawn's Mia Kennelly (23) clamps down on defense against Lockport's Angelica Bafia during a nonconference game on Saturday Dec. 18, 2021.

Most times at school, it was Sevedge opening the door.

“Ever since her freshman year, we noticed she wanted to be in the gym,” Sevedge said. “I mean, it was nonstop. After an open gym, on a Wednesday night, she’d stay until 9-9:30 to get more shots up, work on her ball handling or finishing.

“Mia, from day one, wanted to be in there. It was almost impossible for me or my staff to say no.”

They helped her grow — and follow a dream.

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“From the beginning, I talked to coach Sevedge many times about how I wanted to play college basketball,” Kennelly said. “So he worked extra hard with me, pushing me to be the best I could be. I really do appreciate all of the time he put in.”

And she’s making it all worth it.

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