By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — For the second straight year, the Cardinal O’Hara girl’s basketball team had to say goodbye to the reigning News’ Player of the Year.
The school’s all-time leading scorer, Leah McDonell, is now starting at Daemen College, leaving behind a big hole to fill for this year’s Lady Hawks team.
Luckily for coach Dan McDermott, O’Hara still has a ton of talent and a bunch of players that have demonstrated a strong work ethic.
“We’re trying to amp up the running game even more this year. I’ve been pretty happy with the way things have gone in the first two games as far as that goes,” said McDermott about his team’s 2-0 start in non-league play. “We’re averaging 75 points per in the first two games. We’re getting a lot of steals off our pressure and a lot of deflections that lead to turnovers. The running game has been in high gear and it’s paying dividends.”
Stepping into the leadership role for the Lady Hawks is senior forward Keyonte Edwards. As a junior, Edwards had a breakout season in 2012-13, averaging 15 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.2 steals per game for the two-time defending Catholic School State champs.
McDermott said Edwards has improved over the summer and he expects her to take another giant step forward this season.
“She is a very hard worker and when she got clearance from the medical issue she had at the end of last season, she got right back at it,” he said. “I see another step forward from her, even with the giant step she took last year. It’s showed up already in the first two games.”
Joining Edwards in the starting lineup are seniors Kelsey McCarthy (a 2012-13 News First Team selection), Aisha Shabazz, Jontay Walton (a transfer from Holy Angels Academy) and defensive specialist Jailyn Dickson.
Shabazz is the team’s best shooter, McDermott said, and he expects the versatile Shabazz to make an even bigger impact this year with an expanded role.
“She is a great kid and she works extremely hard. We don’t ever hear a peep out of her, she’s just always willing to do whatever it takes,” he said. “She’s a very strong rebounder for her size, she’s got a great shot and she is lethal from the outside. She does a very good job of penetrating and putting the ball on the floor. She is one of the many assets we have.”
Coming off the bench first will be freshmen Anndea Zeigler and Cori Dickson. McDermott will then rely on a trio of juniors — Gina Draksic, Leah Coleman and Jocelyn Velardi — who are all up from last year’s JV team.
The Lady Hawks have developed a team-first identity in recent years and McDermott said those values have led to the team’s success.
“The girls are really sharing the ball, which we did well last year. In our first game we had 22 assists on 31 field goals, which is a pretty good percentage,” he said. “I’m very happy with the way the girls are playing together and the way they’ve meshed — which has been a big part of our success the past few years.”Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.