That chemistry was severely tested when top scorer and McDonald’s All American, Jayda Johnson, suffered a season ending knee injury at the very start of the campaign. Fellow senior, Josie Cancro, explained, “I was a mess when it happened. But Rayne (Durant) brought us together at half and helped us maintain our focus till the end of the game, since Coach (Johnson) had to tend to Jayda.” Rayne was quick to add, “This season is for Jayda. She is still there all the time for us and gives us her view from the sideline. She offers a player’s perspective and makes sure her comments are constructive and not too critical. Jayda herself offered, “I can’t just have a pity party for the rest of the season. The team makes me feel better prepared for the surgery.” Joining Jayda on the sideline is talented freshman Reilly Chernovetz. Head Coach Brian Johnson commented, “They root the team on and give so much support, and that provides a huge lift to morale. It is so great for me to watch.” He added, “One of the small things that we do is the Positivity Circle after practice where the players talk about their day. It's always so much fun. Believe me, the bonding is a year long thing and I always try to keep these kids connected on and off the court. Our coaching staff maintains so much communication with the players; I feel like it creates a fun environment. When you stay together and play for each other, you can do anything.”
Those sentiments are not restricted simply to the four seniors; others have contributed significantly to the team’s success, especially a group of sophomores. Emma Olausson has not only stepped up as the primary point guard, but has provided plenty of leadership and shrewd decision making on the court. “Emma might be quiet in school,” says Josie, “but once the game starts she is super hyped. She is definitely invested and basketball really brings out the most in her.” The seniors also praised the efforts of Summer Krajcir, who has developed into a 3 point sharpshooter but can also go down low to grab plenty of rebounds. Twins Emerson and Payton Collins, as well as Peighton “Mack” Alston are also making an impact.
Though the team has such a short bench, the Hornets have really not changed their high tempo, first minute-till last in your face intensity. Assistant Coach Maeve Vitale remarked, “In some way I think our fewer numbers have helped us develop as a team. Everyone is able to get valuable minutes and we've really been able to figure out each other's strengths on the court.” Josie added, “We play lots of zone traps, and somehow Eveani goes full tilt all game. Coach has also made some adjustments, so though we aren’t deep, foul trouble has not been an issue." It certainly all seems to be coming together, as the Hornets are currently sitting at 12-2. They recently traveled to Boston where they crushed Brewster Academy 74-27, exacting some revenge on the team that had beaten the Hornets in the 2022 NEPSAC championship. On Monday, they took a shorter ride over to Hopkins and toppled the Hilltoppers 63-24.
To some degree, their success is not too surprising, with the team being led by four seniors who play with a maturity and composure that have helped earn them spots in strong collegiate programs next year. Jayda Johnson will be playing at D1 Boston College where she intends to study sports medicine. Just north of Chestnut Hill, Rayne Durant, who just recently joined the 1,000 Points Club, expects to see minutes at the low post next year as a River Hawk at D1 University of Lowell. Rayne intends to study to become a labor and delivery nurse. Eveani Okwuosa will be more local, and figures to be a serious defensive threat as the 2 or 3 at D2 University of New Haven, where she plans to go premed and become a veterinarian. Josie Cancro will join former HH standout Shannon Rhone on the court as a 3 or 4 for the St. Lawrence University Saints, and will study business.
If this team does not go all the way, it would be understandable if they were to look back with regret on the unfortunate injuries. However, this group will never dwell on what might have been because they have found a joy in playing basketball and being with each other that no trophy can truly reflect. They do not need Punxsutawney Phil’s or anyone else’s predictions about their future success. They are proven winners every time they take the court. Indeed, for the remainder of the season, the challenge is more for the Hamden Hall student body to get behind this incredible team and show their appreciation for the girls’ efforts. The Hornets host St. Luke’s in the battle for first place on Monday, and the team would love some strong support. Students would do well to emulate this team and echo their pregame rally cry, “HORNETS ON 3! FAMILY ON 6!!!”