By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The Cardinal O’Hara girls basketball team turned in its most successful season in program history last season, finishing 22-5 and winning the New York State Catholic Class B state championship.
Now it’s time to see if the Lady Hawks can do it again.
So far, so good — O’Hara has won its first two games this season — but the Lady Hawks are without Aaron Shabazz, who graduated last year and one of only four players in the history of the program to score over 1,000 points. She scored 15.4 points and grabbed 10.6 rebound per game and was named as the co-Tonawanada News Player of the Year.
Lucky for the Lady Hawks the other half of the Player of the Year combo wears the same uniform. Senior guard Leah McDonell went over 1,000 points as a junior last season and will look to set the all-time scoring record at the school before she ends her career. She currently sits at 1,228 points — 127 points away from breaking Melissa Kanalley’s record set in 2006.
McDonell is 548 points away from becoming the Monsignor Martin all-time leading scorer and O’Hara coach Dan McDermott thinks she has an “outside chance.”
He called McDonell “the complete package.”
“She’s very fast and has worked very hard on her shooting and ball-handling,” he said. “She takes great great pride in her defense as well. Her greatest asset is her competitiveness. When things are on the line is when she can really play her best. She almost always has stepped up for us in all the tough situations of big games down the stretch.”
McDermott also said that McDonell has always had an intense drive to improve on the court, and that’s part of the reason she has been so successful.
“I’ve always known she was never satisfied with where she is at. She takes great pride in staying in great shape all year long,” he said. “She’s constantly doing something and always trying to find a way to get better.”
McDonell led the Lady Hawks in scoring as a freshman and as a sophomore, but last season the team’s overall improvement led to a more balanced attack. O’Hara returns three other All-Monsignor Martin players in its starting lineup: Keyonte Edwards at small forward, Kayla Brown at the point and forward Sara SiPasquale. Junior Kelsey McCarthy rounds out the starting lineup for O’Hara.
McDermott is excited about the team’s maturity and experience level.
“It’s a very experienced group — four juniors have been on varsity from their freshman year,” he said. “The seniors as well. They’re very experienced and they’re looking to push even more this year. It’s going to be tough to offset the loss of (Shabazz). She was a great player but everybody is taking it as a challenge. It’s not just going to be one person that’s going to fill that role. It’s everybody together.”
The Lady Hawks are an aggressive team and like to utilize their team speed to get out in transition, according to McDermott.
McDermott only has eight players on his O’Hara roster — four seniors and four juniors — which makes his bench an experienced and capable group. Aisha Shabazz earned the sixth-man award at last weekend’s Pastor-Cooper tournament and McDermott is expecting “huge things” out of the junior this season.
“It was nice for her to get recognized for her efforts,” he said. “Many times she can be a big spark for us off the bench. She’s a very good shooter and she’s very fast — a good all-around athlete.”
Jailyn Dickson and Mary McDermott will also play a significant role for the Lady Hawks this season off the bench.
O’Hara is back on the court against Frewsburg on Friday in the Jamestown “United Way” Tournament.
Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.