By Dan Hardenbrook
The next time the Engadine Lady Eagles take the basketball court, the team will have a different look and feel. Their star player has graduated and their longtime coach has hung up his whistle. It will be a new era for Engadine Girls Basketball, and a new coach has been selected to lead the team.
Melissa Mallion, who resides in Newberry and spent the last couple of years working with the rival Lady Indians basketball program, was recently hired by Engadine to jump ship and head south, completing a dream come true for the new coach.
“I’m honored. I’m so excited but also a little nervous,” says Mallion, whose coaching experience also included multiple years volunteering with the Newberry Youth Basketball Association. In recent seasons she coached at the 5th and 6th grade level, where teams had plenty of success and excitement.
While also shadowing now former Lady Indians Coach Jim Dzelak, she reignited a passion that has been with her for a long time. “I’ve always wanted to be a basketball coach,” she said. “At this point, that’s what I’m most excited for. Just to have that opportunity.”
Mallion will have big shoes to fill on the sidelines in Engadine, replacing former UPSSA Coach of the Year Roger French, who led the Lady Eagles to the MHSAA semifinals in East Lansing, and won multiple district championships during his tenure. He is the only EUP coach other than St Ignace’s Doreen Ingalls to have won a conference, district, and regional championship, and reach the Final Four. French brought stability back to the Engadine program, which was cycling through head coaches on an almost yearly basis before his arrival.
Mallion’s players will also have big shoes of their own to fill, as the team will need to replace the all-around impact of last season’s Division 4 UP Player of the Year, Leah French. Mallion will look to several young players who already have varsity experience. Hali Butkovich and Claire Oven will be among those looking to lead in the new era.
Mallion says she hasn’t had the chance to meet any of her new players yet, but can’t wait to get in the gym and get things going. Her hope is to build a disciplined team that is good defensively and shoots a high percentage at the free throw line. Those are key areas that often make or break a team’s chances on a nightly basis.
She’s looking forward to seeing her team gel and find their flow, and eventually hopes to have a strong foundation for the program and where players can have fun and win games. She says she is looking to her own former summer high school and summer ball coaches for inspiration.
“They never had favorites and saw what each player was capable of,” she said. “They brought out the best in their players. That’s what I want to do.”