There’s no question the Cardinal O’Hara Hawks girls’ basketball team has the talent.
Earlier this month senior Kiara Johnson showed once again the talent and success of the program as she became the fourth player in as many years to sign her NLI to play Division-I.
Junior Angel Parker will look to add the tradition next year as she currently holds a couple D-I offers. Seniors Nickelle O’Neil and Cierra Harrison also have offers to play at the next level.
The question for the Lady Hawks this year is, ‘Who’s going to be the leader?’
It’s an important question as O’Hara must replace their top three scorers from a strong 2016-2017 campaign in which the Hawks continued their dominance over WNY extending their streak of games won against local teams to 72 en route to their winning their fourth consecutive Monsignor Martin title. The season came to an end with an 80-70 loss to Mary Louis Academy in the NYSCHSAA Class AA semifinals.
According to coach Nick O’Neil, the loss showed that the Hawks must bring their ‘A’ game when they face tough out-of-town opponents.
“When we go down to New York (City) if we don’t play our best game it’s tough for us,” O’Neil said. “We need to play the best game so we can to beat teams like that.”
The Hawks lose major talent from last year’s squad in Anndea Zeigler, now playing at Canisius, and Cori Dickson, whose starting at D-II Northwestern Ohio.
Now they are looking for people to step up and fill that void.
“All of our girls right now have never been top scorers on their team,” O’Neil said. “Now they have to come into a new role and score for us this year.”
The Hawks are gladly welcoming a new addition to their coaching staff this year in assistant coach Mike McCarthy who comes over from MMAA rival Mount St. Mary’s.
It’s not something McCarthy planned on, but he is enjoying his new role.
“It’s taken some time to adjust to, but I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy and O’Neil were not only familiar to each other as opponents during the winter, but have coached together in I-90 girls AAU program.
The two have contrasting coaching styles but O’Neil believes that it will ultimately make the Hawks more successful.
“One of the biggest aspects of this season is getting McCarthy,” O’Neil said. “He has helped me be a better coach. He has shown me things that I’m not used to and were putting them in. He’s really technical and I’m a coach that is like more like ‘were going to get after you’, sometimes he’s able to tap me on the shoulder and say you need to do this.”
McCarthy is also familiar with many of the girls on the team having coached some of them in the summer.
Johnson brings the size for O’Hara standing at 6’ 2”. The center will be playing at Eastern Michigan next year. The senior averaged eight points and over seven rebounds last season.
“We need to her to be a huge presence in the post,” O’Neil said. “She needs to be an intimidator, enforcer and get us rebounds.”
Parker will be expected to lead the offense at point guard. She averaged 7.6 PPG and led the team with 110 steals in 2017.
O’Hara is counting on O’Neil and Harrison to make big leaps in terms of scoring from last season.
Along with an impressive basketball mind, McCarthy brings his daughter, Mia to O’Hara.
It’s a change of pace for Mia, but she is enjoying her time with the Hawks.
“Athletically, it’s something I have to get used to,” Mia said about playing at O’Hara. “My teammates are great.”
Mia and Parker’s younger sister, Alliya are the two freshmen on the team and have played AAU summer ball together.
Junior Robyn Sommerville and sophomore Tatianna Smith will be counted on to play big minutes since the Hawks only have eight players on the roster this season.
Despite their smaller size, O’Neil still expects his team to just as successful as they have been in years past, but everyone must be ready to play at all times.
“They have to be really disciplined, we can’t get into foul trouble,” O’Neil said. “We have to be careful about how much pressure we put on. But I see no difference in this year’s team than ones in years past.”
The Hawks will open up the season Wednesday night as they host Frontier in a non-league matchup that will tip at 6 p.m.