By Matt Parrino email@example.com
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — When Dan McDermott took over as head girls basketball coach at Cardinal O’Hara in 1999, the program was flatlining.
He found out his first day on the job that he might not even be able to put a varsity squad on the court.
“The program was down, and that is an understatement,” McDermott said. “My first year when I started, I sat down and talked with the AD at the time, and it was so far down she told me that we were going to be a JV only program.”
Luckily for McDermott and Cardinal O’Hara, the Lady Warriors varsity team survived, and now, 15 years later, the O’Hara program is the crown jewel of Western New York girls high school basketball.
After capturing its first Monsignor Martin Association championship in over 40 years on March 1, O’Hara secured its third-straight state Catholic school title last Saturday with a 62-59 win over Kellenberg Memorial. After Class B titles in 2012 and 2013, the Lady Hawks moved up to Class A this season, but the results were still the same.
“It was wild. We did not play well at the beginning and we found ourselves down 13-2 right off the bat,” McDermott said. “They were a very good team, and when you get to this point all the teams are going to be very good.”
O’Hara senior Kelsey McCarthy suffered an ankle injury early on and the Hawks seemed to be doomed, going against a Kellenberg team led by a center who was McCarthy’s assignment on defense and is set to play D-I basketball at St. Joseph’s next season.
But McCarthy got some treatment and limped her way back onto the court late in the first half. She scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half and her determination rubbed off on her teammates.
“It was looking pretty dire early. We switched defenses and played a half court trap, and then we kind of calmed down a bit,” McDermott said. “Everyone realized they had to step up and by halftime we whittled their lead down to two points. In the second half it was like a dog fight. It was going back and forth and the lead changed maybe about seven or eight times.”
With 10 seconds to play, senior guard Jontay Walton, who went over 2,000 points for her career earlier in the game, went to the free throw line with her Lady Hawks ahead by a point with a chance to make O’Hara’s lead a bit more comfortable. She uncharacteristically missed both shots, but senior Keyonte Edwards was there and tipped in the rebound to put the Lady Hawks up by three points.
Kellenberg missed a last-second heave 3-pointer.
Edwards and Walton both finished with 15 points. McDermott said the win was a complete team victory.
“We needed somebody to step it up and make something happen after Kelsey went out. Our young players, specifically Cory Dickson and Anndea Zeigler, stepped up and had outstanding games,” he said. “Anndea had eight points, a bunch of rebounds and played great defense, and Cory scored 10 points and had a couple big 3’s in the third quarter.”
In terms of the O’Hara program and the legacy this year’s team has helped maintain, McDermott said he couldn’t be more proud of his girls.
“We’ve been taking steps up the ladder every year,” McDermott said. “It’s just been the type of situation, all of the coaches — Nick O’Neill has been a big part of it and my son Matthew have both helped mold everything — are a big reason things have turned out like they have. We just couldn’t be any more proud of the way the kids have performed in the last two games and in the Monsignor Martin championship game. In those kinds games there is pressure and they’ve come through and gotten the job done.”
The Lady Hawks begin their quest for the overall Federation Class A state championship when they play the public school state champ on March 21 at 10 a.m.Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.