While most girls basketball players around the state prepared for the upcoming season this past fall by training or playing fall ball, Westbrook senior Savannah Marshall was following another passion.
Marshall traded in her shorts and high-top sneakers, opting for a green-sequins dress and several other ensembles for her leading part as the Lady of the Lake in Westbrook’s production of the musical “Spamalot.”
It was not a fling for Marshall, who has taken part in school musicals every fall since entering Westbrook as a freshman.
Coming from a family obsessed with sports and after playing basketball all winter for Westbrook and most of the spring and summer in AAU, Marshall considers the musicals a much needed respite from hoops.
“It’s my little thing because our family is super athletic, it’s all athletes,” Marshall said “I love it, it’s my little escape from the competitive sports world. As I’ve gotten older it’s more important for me to have my own little thing. I’m into theater and I quit playing soccer to do that in the fall. One year we did Footloose and I’d come home sweating and it was supposed to by my offseason. But doing these musicals is so much fun for me.”
Marshall is not overstating the athleticism in her family.
Her mother, father, grandfather, aunt, uncle and cousin all played sports in college and Marshall plans to do the same, committing to play basketball at Sacred Heart University next year.
Her father is former UConn men’s basketball player Donny Marshall, who played for the Huskies from 1991-95 and for five years in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New Jersey Nets.
Her mother is Kelly (Penwell) Landino, a standout player for Platt High School in Meriden who went on to play for the University of Hartford. She is a member of the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Landino is also Savannah’s coach at Westbrook and has been coaching her daughter since Savannah began an after-school program in Chester, where they lived at the time, when Marshall was in first grade.
Landino continued coaching Marshall through parks and recreation, travel and AAU teams, then eventually at Westbrook.
Marshall moved to Westbrook in sixth grade and a year later, Landino took the Westbrook varsity coaching job, temporarily passing Marshall off to coach Scotty Nails and the Connecticut Basketball Club AAU program in middle school.
She and Donny Marshall are divorced, with Donny now living near Storrs, though he comes to see Savannah play throughout the season.
Marshall gets aspects of her game from both parents.
“It’s like a freight train coming down the court and she will run over everything or anyone in her way. That was her father’s style, he would just run through everybody and that’s her,” Landino said. “I think she thinks she is 6-feet tall. (she’s 5-foot-8) She just gets going through the middle and isn’t stopping. I wouldn’t change her style of play because that’s what makes her so fierce. She definitely gets that from him.”
And from mom.
“My motto was always ‘shoot first.’ I am very offensive and I feel like I have taught her to be an offensive player,” Landino said. “Defense is not my specialty and the last two years her AAU coach, Scotty Nails, has done an awesome job with her defensively. I am very offensive-minded but that is not always the best way to be. I have taught her multiple ways to score, but defensively, I have to give that credit to Scotty.”
Nails told Marshall if she wanted to take her game to the next level and play in D-I, she had to get serious about defense.
“The first thing we had to do with Savannah was prove that she could guard people,” Nails said. “All you have to do is tell her something once and she gets it. She is a tough kid, very competitive and won’t back down from anybody. The one thing we can’t teach people is how to lead and Savannah has it in her and is the leader of our team. She has it in her.”
Nails said that while Marshall obviously comes from an exceptional basketball gene pool, she has forged her own path in every way.
“She is not trying to be someone’s daughter. She doesn’t want to be known as Donny’s daughter or Kelly’s daughter, she wants to be Savannah Marshall,” Nails said. “She has done that. Now they talk about Donny being Savannah’s dad and Kelly being Savannah’s mom because she’s been able to accomplish her own goals and make a name for herself.”
Being coached by a parent might make compartmentalizing difficult for some, but Marshall and Landino are able to separate basketball and family.
“It’s funny, because people always talk about how teenage daughters and their moms argue, or don’t get along, but we haven’t had that,” Marshall said. “I wouldn’t want another coach. I learned everything I know from her. We have such a great relationship.”
Now that Marshall has a driver’s license, she leaves after games with friends, eliminating some of Landino’s favorite time she used to spend with her daughter: the drive home from games.
Landino said the drive home used to be the perfect way to discuss the game before leaving it at their door, but now the basketball creeps into the house occasionally.
“There is some overlap. Before she got her license we would talk basketball the whole way home and then as soon as we got home, I’d turn into mom. I have a younger daughter, too and life kind of happens when you walk through the door,” Landino said.
“Now that she’s driving, she leaves after the game with her friends and we will usually catch up late that night or the next day and we will talk basketball. It does happen a little more at home than it ever did before. I liked it better in the car and kind of getting it all out. I always said if it didn’t work coaching her in high school, I’d stop. She makes it easy because she is such a good kid.”
Marshall is not only a good kid, but a star basketball player in the Shoreline Conference, where she has scored over 1,300 points with 500 rebounds an counting in her career.
This season, despite facing gimmick defenses designed to slow her, she is still playing at an all-state level.
Teams have not only thrown box-and-ones at her, but also played a triangle-and-two with two players blanketing Marshall, at times.
Last week against Old Saybrook Marshall had a career-high 40 points along with 16 rebounds and 12 steals for a triple-double in a 58-43 win.
Marshall has collected all the personal accolades, but has team goals in her sights. Westbrook did not make the Class S tournament last season after going out in the second round her sophomore season. Qualifying for the Shoreline and Class S state tournaments are very important to Marshall.
“It is very important for us to make states. Last year we had a lot of injuries and this year we have three seniors and we all want this and we are all focused on getting to the state tournament,” Marshall said. “No matter how far we get, we just want to make it in. We have played with each other since sixth grade and we are friends off the court. I moved around a lot when I was younger, so, I don’t have childhood friends like everyone in this town who lived here their whole lives. I’d love to end our senior year playing in the state tournament.”
If her previous accomplishments are any indication, Marshall can certainly lead Westbrook to the postseason.
Next year she will not only be playing basketball at Sacred Heart, but hopes to pursue theater as a minor as well.
Because that is her own little thing.