by Calli Newberry
For more than a decade, Mary Lengemann has had two goals: play college basketball and become a pilot.
Well, this Imlay City senior point guard has found the perfect match in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. This unique NCAA Division II university in Daytona Beach, Florida, excels in both aeronautics and athletics, exactly what Lengemann was looking for.
“My original plan was to become a pilot, and they’re pretty much one of the best aviation schools in the country. They’re regarded as ‘Harvard of the skies,’” Lengemann said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to find a school where I could become a pilot and play college basketball, but it just kind of worked out that it had both.”
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While becoming a pilot has been her dream since she was six years old, Lengemann said she’d be willing to put that dream on hold if she hadn’t been able to find a school that offered opportunities to achieve both of her goals. After growing up around the sport, basketball had become her number one priority.
Her father, Bill Lengemann, had played college basketball at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and instilled the passion for the game in his three daughters. Lengemann said she and her sisters grew up going to camps and open gym sessions with their dad and even watched him coach at Capac and Imlay City schools for a time.
“That’s always been my main priority. If there’s a school that has aviation and I can play basketball, I’ll go there and play basketball. But if there’s a school that doesn’t have aviation but I want to play basketball there, forget the pilot thing,” Lengemann said. “I’m not gonna lie, a lot of people say your main priority should be to go there and get a good education, but my thing was always that you only have four years to play college basketball.”
After all, she could always go back and pursue her degree later. The opportunity to play college basketball is a once in a lifetime opportunity, one that she doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s been a lot. I think I’ve worked incredibly hard for this opportunity and it’s something I can’t really put lightly because it was an everyday thing,” Lengemann said. “You have to think about it, you have to prepare for it, you have to get after it every single day, and if you don’t have that mindset, somebody else is and you’re not going to make it.”
Lengemann said she attended a University of Michigan women’s basketball game when she was 13 years old, and that’s when she committed to practicing or training for at least one hour a day. She wanted to be just like the athletes she saw on the court in front of her.
The practice paid off as she made the Imlay City varsity team several months later as a freshman, along with her twin sister Ana. The next year, their younger sister Lily joined them.
“Our dad is the assistant coach, so we go to practice and 80% of our family is there, everybody but our mom,” she said. “It’s super fun, I’m definitely going to miss playing with them.”
Despite making the varsity team as a freshman and seeing some success, Lengemann didn’t want to settle. She said after that year she still wasn’t where she wanted to be, so she decided to dedicate two hours a day to the sport.
“A lot of it’s being disciplined, even when you don’t want to do it you have to get after it. I feel like the biggest part is getting up to go do it,” she said. “I love it. That’s one of the best parts of playing basketball is the journey and just seeing myself progress and having coaches who come up to me and say, ‘Listen Mary, you are way better than you were five months ago, six months ago.’”
As she’s improved over the last three years, she’s propelled her team farther each season. In 2019, the Spartans made it to the District Final. In 2020, they made it to the Regional championship before having the game cancelled due to the coronavirus. And in 2021, they won the Regional before falling in the State Quarterfinal by five points to Detroit Country Day.
This year, Lengemann and her teammates will be fighting to get back there and even advance to the State Final.
“I would say I’m approaching this season the same way I have the last three. I’m here to win,” she said. “I want to bring championships to Imlay City, that’s my goal. So whatever I have to do to do that, that’s what I’m going to do.”