After illustrious career, LHS senior Hannah Stewart to make most of final postseason
photo by: Carter Gaskins
On the eve of her first career high school basketball game, Lawrence High’s Hannah Stewart was told by head coach Jeff Dickson that she would be starting. There was just one problem, though: Stewart didn’t realize he meant she would be starting for the varsity game.
“He said, ‘I’m starting you,’ Stewart recalled. “In the back of my mind, I thought it was for JV since I’m a freshman. Then, he told me it was for varsity, and (I) was like, ‘Wait, seriously?'”
Stewart, who is now a senior preparing for her last postseason on the hardwood, has two moments that still stick out from that game after over four years.
Because it was her first start, Stewart forgot to shake hands with the officials after being introduced. Stewart also remembers banking in a 3-pointer from the top of the key in the first half.
“I didn’t know he believed in me that much,” Stewart said. “He’s started me every game since then, and it’s been quite a ride. I don’t want it to end.”
Stewart has since become a savvy veteran during starter introductions, and has netted an abundance of triples for the Lions. LHS has racked up four winning seasons since Stewart took over as point guard. Prior to that, the program had not posted a winning clip since 2008.
Lawrence (11-9) has made it to the sub-state championship three years in a row, including a trip to the state tournament in 2017. Stewart and the rest of her LHS seniors could potentially advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season with a home win over Wichita Southeast at 6 p.m. Thursday night.
It has been a remarkable run for the program, which has been made possible by a talented senior class of Chisom Ajekwu, Leslie Ostronic, Evann Seratte and Sammy Williams. Stewart and Ajekwu, a KU signee, are the only two players who have started all four seasons.
“(Hannah) is the hardest working, most intense, best leader, best person and best kid that I’ve been around in 21 years of coaching,” LHS head coach Jeff Dickson said. “Chisom is obviously a once-in-a-lifetime player. Sammy is an incredible athlete. Evann is a (Division I) athlete, Leslie is another dynamic multisport athlete. To me, the heart of all that is Hannah Stewart.”
But it wasn’t always a given that Stewart was going to play high school basketball.
Stewart had success in volleyball and track before coming to LHS, and could have elected to focus on those two sports. Instead, Stewart chose to play all three sports throughout her high school career and has experienced plenty of success as a result.
This past fall, Stewart helped the volleyball team capture its first state title since 1995. In the spring of her junior campaign, Stewart placed in multiple events to contribute to a title for the LHS girls track and field team at the 6A state meet.
“She has to be one of the most decorated athletes in the last 25 years, in terms of what she has contributed to every team she’s been a part of,” Dickson said. “She’s won multiple titles in track, she’s won a state volleyball title and she’s helped us break a 10-year (drought) of getting to state.”
Playing multiple sports, and not having much time off, is all Stewart has really ever known. She picked up basketball first, but it wasn’t long before she started playing volleyball. When she tried track in junior high, Stewart found out she enjoyed competing in that sport, as well.
Stewart enjoys the camaraderie of every team she’s ever been with, and how each squad’s dynamic can be different. The fact that she’s experienced so much success while playing high school sports is an added bonus.
“My freshman year, we actually won the 4×400-meter relay,” Stewart said. “That was why we play high school sports, to be able to have that feeling of winning championships and representing the school in the most positive way you can.”
That’s exactly what makes the LHS girls basketball team such a difficult out this postseason. Like Stewart, multiple players have been a part of state championship teams in other sports.
Seratte won an individual title in the 800-meter run last spring, and was a runner-up in the 400-meter run. Ajekwu placed third in shot put, while Ostronic competed as a distance runner for the track team and also ran cross-country. Williams was second on the volleyball team in kills in her senior season.
As a result, the fact that so many of the seniors understand what it takes to win a title could prove to be pivotal during this postseason.
“We make a concerted effort to have kids do multiple sports and try to represent our school,” Dickson said. “They have been in the situation before. There is nothing that can replace that experience. They have had success at those levels before.”