By Matt Parrino email@example.com
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — When Jontay Walton decided to transfer to Cardinal O'Hara after Holy Angels closed its doors at the end of the 2013 school year, everybody had an opinion about how she would fit in as a Lady Hawk.
"You can't imagine how many people told me when they found out Jontay was coming here that it was not going to work," said O'Hara coach Dan McDermott.
But every time the team took the floor this season, it's as if Walton had been there for her whole four years of high school. Athletic Director Angelo Sciandra said the smooth transition is a testament to the quality people in the Cardinal O'Hara community.
"There were a lot of people that said this wasn't going to work," Sciandra said. "Jontay was throwing up 50 shots a game for Holy Angels, but there she had to. Here she made beautiful passes — she came in, and from day one, she fit in beautifully. These kids and their families are very accepting."
Walton had a memorable season in her first year at O'Hara, leading the Lady Hawks with 17.4 points and 5.6 steals per game on her way to the all-time Monsignor Martin Association scoring record. She broke the record on Jan. 30 against Nardin in a game played, fittingly, at Holy Angels.
Asked what made O'Hara so tough to beat, Nardin coach Joe Dougherty had a brief two-word answer.
"Jontay Walton," Dougherty said. "They would have been a good team without her, then you add the best player in Western New York, who comes onto your roster before the start of the season and that put them on another level. She came and it was like she was there all four years. Some teams have to get used to somebody new, but they didn't seem to miss a beat."
Walton, committed to play Division 1 basketball next season at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, called this a truly special season with an even more special group of girls.
"It's very special, transferring here after my old school closed. Everybody has embraced me, and it's like my second family," she said. "We know what we had to do to win the Federation, it was a challenge and everybody stepped up to the plate. It was a great experience."
After a breakout season in 2012-13, this year the Lady Hawks were set to become Keyonte Edwards' team, and many people believed it would be tough to integrate a player like Walton, who was a one-girl show at Holy Angels. But the two seniors clicked almost immediately, and on the floor they were determined to do whatever needed to be done to win.
"It's a credit to (Jontay and Keyonte) — the way they've worked together. It's been seamless since day one," McDermott said. "They knew what they had to do, the formula we needed to have to be successful, and they just went out and did it. There was never any thought put into it, they just knew it was the way they had to play."
With so much talent and only one ball to go around, there needed to be a strong leader at the top directing the show. Sciandra said McDermott has combined basketball knowledge, patience and vision to be the perfect coach to lead the Lady Hawks.
"We can go back 10 years ago where he's not had some very good teams. He's always very dedicated and loyal, he's a high character guy," Sciandra said. "He cares so much for the school. He and his wife are both alumni, and he just bleeds black and gold. We couldn't ask for a better coach."
Sciandra, who also coaches the football team at O'Hara in the fall, explained that a lot of kids tend to be more selfish these days. McDermott's ability to get everybody to buy into the team mentality is further evidence of his quality coaching job.
"There were a lot of kids on this team that had to make sacrifices for each other. For the coach to get them to do that says something about the coach," Sciandra said. "There are three legitimate first team All-Western New Yorkers on that team, but there's only one ball. They shared the ball very well and those girls genuinely cared about each other. Dan was able to get them to buy into what they needed to do as a team."
As for Walton, she is still enjoying the fact that the Lady Hawks completed the ultimate goal.
"I was thinking in the car ride home, that I need to embrace all of this. It's definitely very exciting to have the accolades and I'm very thankful to God and the team that we were able to pull this out," she said. "I couldn't have done this with a better group of girls. We knew we had the talent and acumen to do it, and we did it."Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.