Similar to many Stag students and coaches, Faith Hawthorne has been ensconced in Bishop Miege virtually her entire life.
Her mother, Jean, and aunt, Jessica, played basketball for legendary Miege coach Terry English, now entering his 43rd winter with the Stags. He is 843-165 and has 20 state championships.
English and his children graduated from Miege, and he considers Miege the only teaching job he has ever had. Highly successful Stag football coach Jon Holmes and Jeff English, Terry son’s and varsity girls’ basketball assistant, have a similar path.
Jessica Pankey (nee Olson) was on the 1994 state title team at Miege. Then, she went to nearby NAIA Avila (Mo.) University from ’94-99 and was a four-year letter winner in basketball and two-year letter winner in volleyball. She earned first team all-conference all four years, scored 1,793 career points and was Avila’s all-time leading scorer until 2011.
Hawthorne has had several uncles attend Miege and has multiple cousins in the area. Currently, her cousin, Mary Olson, Jessica’s daughter, is on the JV basketball team.
Hawthorne’s long-term goal is live in the Kansas City area and have her children attend Miege. Her younger brother is an eighth grader and will attend Miege next year.
“I was going to go to Miege no matter what because my mom went there, so she wanted me there also,” Hawthorne said.
Last season, the 6-foot-1 Hawthorne accomplished another benchmark when she started as a freshman for the Stags.
In her first contest, Hawthorne had one of her three double-doubles with 19 points and 10 rebounds in a 67-65 loss to Dowling Catholic, a squad out of West Des Moines, Iowa, that eventually finished as a state runner-up.
“My first game, I was so nervous, like I thought I was going to throw up,” Hawthorne said. “But it’s like the best feeling just playing. It’s so fun. It’s like my dream.”
She and 6-1 freshman Payton Verhulst, one of the nation’s top prospects, enjoyed big years as the Stags finished 22-3.
Long trained by former WNBA player Betty Lennox, Hawthorne averaged 11.3 points and 5.8 rebounds a game. Verhulst tallied 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds a contest.
“She has really shaped me to be the player I am today,” Hawthorne said.
Hawthorne led the team with 16 points and four assists in a 62-58 overtime loss to McPherson in the Class 4A, Division I state championship game. In the semifinals, she collected 16 points and 11 rebounds versus K.C. Piper.
“The physicality that she brings,” Jeff English said. “She is so strong with the ball, but at the same time, she has got such nice touch from the perimeter. Her footwork is solid, and she allows us to stretch the defense, bring the post away from the basket.”
Hawthorne watched the defeat during study hall two days before the season started Thursday. The championship game loss ended Miege’s run of four straight state titles. Miege had defeated McPherson in the final the previous year.
“We had it, but toward the end, we just let it slip, and they started hitting 3s, and uggh, it’s frustrating,” Hawthorne said. “People fouled out, and we lost the game, and we just kind of fell apart at the end.”
Hawthorne and Verhulst each collected third team all-state (top-30) for all classes and were named All Classes co-Freshmen of the Year by Sports in Kansas.
“She attacks the basket,” Hawthorne said. “She always finds the open player.”
A 3.5 GPA student and one-sport athlete, Hawthorne has had contact with multiple Division I schools, including South Dakota, Drake, South Florida, Princeton and UMKC.
“I think if I really want to go far in basketball, I need to just stick with it and not have any distractions,” she said.
This season, Miege returns four starters. Along with Hawthorne and Verhulst, Miege has two seniors with Jordynn and Johnni Gonzalez. The trio were all first team 4A-I, and Jordynn was honorable mention all-state.
Johnni, a top-20 all classes player, has signed to play at Division I University of California-Santa Barbara. She had 10 points, 2.7 assists and 2.3 steals a contest. Jordynn delivered 7.9 points, 2.4 rebounds.
“It’s not just one player that drives our ship,” English said. “It’s a group of five to eight or nine kids that all bring something unique. It’s been a cool experience.”
Additionally, Miege has junior Ashton Verhulst (6.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, first team all-state volleyball this fall) and two talented freshmen guards, Gabi Henderson-artis and Emajin McCallop. Henderson-artis led her team to the Junior NBA World Championship title this summer.
Ashton, Payton’s sister, made her college choice early in 2017 when she verbally committed to play for Kansas State. Jordynn has committed to NAIA MidAmerica Nazarene, which won the 2016 national title.
“Just going to try to do the same thing as last year, except of course get a state championship,” Hawthorne said. “Yeah, I think we are looking pretty good, maybe even better than last year, and we got two new freshmen in that are pretty strong, two guards.”
Hawthorne first started with club basketball in third grade. One time, Lennox came to practice to help train the players.
Lennox spent three high school years at Fort Osage High in Independence, Mo., just across the state line. Lennox spent part of her collegiate career at Butler Community College and earned All-American at Louisiana Tech.
She had a highly decorated career in the WNBA from 2000-11. She is the head women’s basketball coach at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley in the Kansas City area. Hawthorne labeled Lennox her role model.
Hawthorne has trained with her ever since. In the summer, when Hawthorne is not at tournaments, she normally works with Lennox twice a week at gyms across the KC area. Most of the time they focus on ball handling drills, but they have frequently worked with resistance bands and the Vertimax to help with the vertical jump and speed training.
“She is really tough on me, but she wants the best,” Hawthorne said. “She kind of reminds me of Terry, but I love her, she’s family, and she doesn’t put up with laziness.”
In seventh grade, Hawthorne grew in height. Last summer, she has played with Phenom, which won the prestigious Nike Nationals 16-and-under division in Chicago and also captured a big tournament in Kentucky. Hawthorne listed her strengths as attacking the basket, getting rebounds and playing defense. She enjoys shooting 3s.
“It was a great experience, you see people like 6-5, I was small out there,” Hawthorne said. “Every single game, I was small, but I had to play against the bigs, and they would just push me, and this summer, I think I have really grown, and I think I will be better this season.”
This year, Hawthorne has set goals to beat rival St. Thomas Aquinas and win state.
“She has got a lot of tools with her that are just still kind of being refined,” English said. “And working some kinks out with her footwork and things like that, but she is going to be a heck of a player, and we are expecting her to take a big jump this year especially.”
Last winter, Miege defeated Aquinas, 55-54, on Jan. 2, and the Saints won 56-51 10 days later. Meige is 14-13 in the last 27 meetings against Aquinas. Five of the last seven games are five points or fewer.
Miege opens against St. Joe Central (Mo.) on Thursday. Next week, the Stags travel to the Arkansas Tournament of Champions, the first time Miege will play in the tournament.
After Christmas, Miege plays at Aquinas on Jan. 11, in the Newton tournament and has a road game versus Francis Howell Central, a Missouri returning state runner-up, in St. Louis on Feb. 2.
“Honest, we are having some tough times finding teams that are wanting to play us here in the Kansas City area and around the state,” English said. “So we have kind of had to look elsewhere to find some teams that want to make themselves better and push themselves against the type of kids we have. Because we know these types of kids aren’t going to be around forever, and it’s all cyclical, but while we have this talent, we also want to push our kids to be as best as they can, too.”
How did you get involved in basketball?
“Started playing club basketball in third grade.”
What are your goals this season?
“Definitely win state. I want to beat Aquinas, and play as a team.”
Do you guys have a shot to make a run this year?
“Just going to try to do the same thing as last year, except of course get a state championship. Yeah, I think we are looking pretty good, maybe even better than last year, and we got two new freshmen in that are pretty strong, two guards.
What’s the atmosphere like to play basketball for your school and town?
“It’s the best, like we always have a packed house.”
For anyone that hasn’t seen one of your games, why come to one?
It’s the best feeling ever, like when the crowd gets in it, it’s so fun. That’s what I look forward to. That’s what makes it like fun.”
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?
“I would say like attacking the basket, getting rebounds, and my 3s, I like shooting 3s, and my defense, I like defense, too.”
Do you play any other sports, tell us about that, what other positions do you play?
“I think if I really want to go far in basketball, I need to just stick with it and not have any distractions.”
What is it like to play for your coach?
“He’s a tough coach, like he is always pushing you to do your hardest. He’s tough, but overall, he just wants the best in you, and he just knows what he is doing, he is a great coach. He wins championships.”
What did you and the team do in the off-season to become better?
(Summer) “was a great experience, you see people like 6-5, I was small out there. Like every single game, I was small, but I had to play against the bigs, and they would just push me, and this summer, I think I have really grown, and I think I will be better this season.”
What interest are you seeing at the next level and what are your plans?
South Dakota, Drake, South Florida, Princeton, UMKC
Favorite thing to do when you aren’t playing sports?
“Hang out with my friends or go to the movies, and I have a lot of cousins I like to hang out with.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
“Probably live in Kansas and send my kids to Miege.”
Favorite subject in school, what type of student are you, GPA?
English, I like my teacher. She makes it fun. 3.5 GPA.
Who is your role model?
Best place to eat in your town or the surrounding area?
“Either Cheesecake Factory or sushi Mido, but Sushi is my favorite.”