Cohen gets the magic back on the basketball court Mercy guard renewed by the joy of the game

January 05, 1996|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

In trying to do everything for her team last season, Mercy point guard Shannon Cohen neglected to do something for herself -- have fun playing the game she loves.

This season, however, Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion has noticed a change in the 5-foot-5 junior. Cohen is still intense, but she's smiling a lot more.

Basketball is fun again.

Surrounded by a better group of athletes this season, Cohen no longer bears the burden of carrying the team by herself.

"She's much looser and not as tense," Marion said. "She was so pressured that she was afraid to make a mistake. Now she's become much more confident."

The result is that Cohen and the Magic have flourished. She is averaging 19 points and 6.8 assists for No. 12 Mercy, which has gone 9-4 after a 7-20 finish last season.

Two other players -- freshmen Jamie Vogtman (11.1) and Ashlee Courter (10.5) -- are averaging double figures in scoring, and the Magic also is benefiting from the solid play of its reserves.

"There's not so much pressure on me to do everything, so I can relax," said Cohen. "This team has more chemistry. We work well together and we can have fun."

The expectations that were placed on Cohen were compounded by the frustration of playing on losing teams. Mercy went 19-33 during Cohen's first two seasons.

"Being on a losing team was tough, but I think it's made me stronger," Cohen said.

Cohen's newfound confidence has allowed her to be more of a true point guard.

"The point guard is supposed to distribute the ball, but in the past it was tough to show that I can pass as well as shoot," said Cohen. "Now I can play my game."

Said Marion: "The pressure is off her this year because she knows she has people that will finish. That makes her game even more difficult to defense. You can't just play for the shot against her, now you have to play for the pass, too."

Cohen, who was named the Most Valuable Player in last week's Noel Classic after amassing 69 points and 21 assists in three games, has the ability to penetrate or hit from outside. And Cohen also has improved her defense.

"I knew right away in practice that her game has moved to the next level," Marion said. "She's smarter defensively, especially with her feet. She had a tendency to get in foul trouble last year by using her hands instead of her feet and head."

Cohen also has honed her leadership skills on a team that has only one senior and four freshmen.

"The point guard in our system is a leader no matter what your grade level is," Marion said. "The past two years, she was very nervous about taking a leadership role because she was an underclassman. This year, she has accepted the responsibility and ran with it.

"At first, she was shy and I had to pull the words out of her to get her to talk. Now, we communicate a lot more. She will say things before I get the words out of my mouth. She's become an extension of myself on the court."

Now that Cohen has overcome her shyness and insecurities, she is willing to help her younger teammates do the same. Cohen has become Courter's "big sister," a program at Mercy in which upperclassmen serve as mentors to freshmen.

"She never lets us get down on ourselves during the game," said Courter. "Off the court, she watches out for me and makes sure I'm doing all right. We're pretty close. If I have a problem, I'll go to her."

This season, Cohen has taught Courter a valuable basketball lesson: To have fun playing it.

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