by Mia Summerson
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — When Jontay Walton transferred to Cardinal O'Hara High School for her senior year and joined the basketball team, she expected to help take her team far, but didn't know they'd go all the way to the top.
The Cardinal O'Hara Lady Hawks soared to a 76-47 victory over Martin Luther King High School of New York City on Sunday. Not only was this the first time that Cardinal O'Hara won the Class A Federation Title, but also the first time a girl's team from Western New York has won the title since 1997.
"We knew that we had the capabilities and we knew the goal," said Walton, who has been playing basketball her whole life and served as a captain this year. "It was definitely a challenge but we expected to win."
Co-captain Keyonte Edwards said she feels like her team was viewed as the underdog, and even though they weren't expected to win, they went to Albany prepared to show everyone what the Lady Hawks are made of.
Over the past few years the Cardinal O'Hara basketball team has seen a tremendous improvement according to Angelo Sciandra, the school's vice principal and athletic director. This year was their first time competing in Class A, having just been bumped up from Class B.
"We've seen a dramatic turn in success," Sciandra said at a celebration for the team at Cardinal O'Hara on Monday afternoon. "These are really good, talented kids."
While five starting seniors got the game off to a good start, Edwards and Walton say that it was the team's freshmen who really stepped it up toward the end of the game to seal the win.
A thrilled Coach Dan McDermott says his whole team has earned the title through experience and hard work, saying that they really rose to the challenge.
"It's jubilation," he said at the party. "We've accomplished what every team tries to accomplish, to follow through and come out with a win. I'm very proud of them."
In many ways, this isn't just a victory for the Lady Hawks, but also for the Tonawanda and Western New York communities as a whole. According to Principal Mary Holzerland, it's not just athletes and coaches who feel that they have something to celebrate, she says everyone from parents to school faculty members are feeling the pride.
The shared excitement of the community has made it's way to Cardinal O'Hara alumni, including Michael Billoni, who graduated in 1973. Billoni says they arranging to have sweatsuits made for the girls, personalized with their names, their team and their title.
"The ladies accomplished a season-long goal," Billoni said. "One team, one dream, to win it all, and they did."
As for next year, coaches and team members alike say they plan to make winning a tradition and will be striving to maintain that tradition going forward. For now Cardinal O'Hara is focused on celebrating their champions.
"We knew what to expect," Walton said. "And we went out with a bang."