Mihjae Hayes is next in line but you can forgive her for not wanting to wait her turn.
The Neumann-Goretti sophomore guard’s future is bright, as she figures to be a big part of the Saints’ plans moving forward.But Hayes is already starting to show flickers of her star power as the stage gets bigger.
“She just wants to win,” Saints coach Andrea Peterson said. “She has a winner’s mentality and she’s going to be the future of Neumann-Goretti.”
Right now, there’s no mistaking that it’s Diamond Johnson’s team. The Rutgers University recruit is finishing up an incredible senior year at Neumann-Goretti that included the recent honor of the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year, which she earned for the second straight year.
Johnson is the only senior on the Saints’ roster this year and is the unquestioned leader, but Hayes is soaking in everything she can from Johnson as their time together winds down. And some of those attributes are beginning to show, especially after Neumann-Goretti grinded out a 64-61 victory over St. Basil Academy in the opening round of the PIAA Class 3A playoffs on Friday.
“I feel like my responsibilities have grown a lot and I just try to learn under Diamond and do like she does,” Hayes said. “The way she leads is perfect, so I’m just trying to carry on that legacy next year. There’s not too much I can’t handle.”
Johnson once again led the way in the playoff opener, scoring a team-high 36 points. But as the Panthers clamped down on Johnson, the Saints picked it up elsewhere. Sierra Bermudez fired 12 points from beyond the arc and Hayes contributed another seven to help Neumann-Goretti advance. They are scheduled to play Dunmore on Tuesday in the second round of the tournament.
“We always talk about how when they double-team Diamond, it’s disrespect to the rest of us because they’re not worried about us,” Hayes said. “We have to help her out and score. Everybody needs to contribute.”
That includes putting in the work off the court, too. Hayes has worked hard in practice and has shadowed Johnson for extra teaching.
“I try to teach her to lead,” Johnson said. “Especially since I’m leaving next year. She’s going to have to help carry the team. Things don’t come easy, so I teach her to work hard to be successful.”
The two are close friends off the court and play against each other recreationally, which Hayes says has boosted her skill level.
“She’s just trying to help me get better,” Hayes said. “If you can guard Diamond, you can guard anybody.”
It’s carried over to some tight team chemistry.
“They’re good friends,” Peterson said. “They hang out. All these kids do. She’s enjoying the moment with Diamond and she’s learning from her. This is a kid who looks up to Diamond and wants to learn from her.”
And Johnson is still learning a thing or two from Hayes.
“She’s funny,” Johnson said. “She’s a special player. She came right in and helped me with the team. She’s going to be great if she doesn’t let things get to her. She’s going to be a great leader.”