The McMaster women’s basketball team has returned from Thunder Bay, the last stop of their five-city road trip, and are now sitting comfortably in first place of the Ontario University Athletics West Division.
One of the biggest contributors to the team is fourth-year guard Hilary Hanaka, who leads the team with an average of 16 points per game. Though she is now a key component of the winning team, Hanaka did not find it easy to assimilate to university-level basketball coming from high school during her first year as a Marauder.
“I actually found it to be a lot different than I thought it would be,” said Hanaka. “The pace at the university level and the speed of the game is so much different than in high school, but it’s still a lot of fun.”
One of the biggest changes coming to Mac was leaving her sister Julia Hanaka behind after playing together for two years at St. Mary’s High School. So when her younger sister made the decision to play for McMaster in Hilary’s third year, it was everything she could have ever wanted.
“When we realized we were actually on a university varsity basketball team together, especially because this doesn’t happen that often, we were so ecstatic,” said Hilary. “Now it’s just so much fun. I think I get more excited to see her succeed than I do myself.”
In the duo’s first year together in maroon, the younger Hanaka did not get the minutes she hoped for. But in her second year, with the departure of many senior players, her opportunities to play increased.
“Being able to get those minutes on court with her has been so memorable to me,” Hilary said.
“When we realized we were actually on a university varsity basketball team together, especially because this doesn’t happen that often, we were so ecstatic.”
“The first time we played together, I passed to her and that led to her scoring her first three and it was just an amazing feeling.”
As someone who does not show a lot of emotion when she plays, watching her sister in that moment made it impossible to keep a grin off her face.
“Seeing her hit that shot and how happy she was made me so happy,” Hilary added.
Julia is not the only younger player benefiting from having her older sister leading the way. As such a key component on the team in her fourth year, Hilary and the other seniors have been leading by example both on and off the court for the younger players.
“When I first started, I looked up to Danielle Boiago who was one of my senior veterans when I came,” said Hilary. “She was always the first to every ball during the game and the first [one in] and last one out of the gym.”
Now that she has become a senior player, Hilary hopes to set an example at all times to show the younger players that success does not just come to you naturally — you have to work for it.
“The younger girls are starting to realize it, especially the ones who have had to step up the last few games,” said Hilary.
These games include the games the veteran guard was sidelined because of to a knee injury.
“I was playing on a sore knee for a while and in one of the games I was hit,” Hilary said. “I continued to try and play and practice on it but finally I was like, ‘this knee is too bad’.”
After having it examined further, she learned she had torn a ligament on the lateral side of her knee.
“I’m trying to play through the pain as best I can right now and at the end of the season I’ll take care of it,” said Hilary.
So far, the elder Hanaka has definitely been playing well through the pain. She was awarded the Pita Pit Athlete of the Week upon her return to the hardwood. With an 11-game winning streak and only four losses this season, the Marauders will more than likely remain in first place in their division. But Mac’s starting guard knows they cannot let it get to their head.
“We have to just take each game as it comes and not get too ahead of ourselves,” said Hilary. “Whatever game is next is just as important as the one after that, so just going into each practice and game with that mindset to get us in the position we want to be in come playoffs.”
Prior to the Thunder Bay road trip, Hilary knew that getting two road wins would be crucial for the last leg of the season.
“It’s always hard to play away from your home court and in someone else’s gym,” the guard said. “Our main focus is just to play our own game and focus on our own stuff, rather than trying to break down each and every one of their offences, because in the end it’s what we do that will lead us to our success.”
With three games left in the regular season, it is up to Hilary and the Marauders to remain in the number one spot.
“Right now we are just making sure we are focusing on our reads and making sure we have that defensive rotation we have been talking about all season,” Hilary said. “If we do that, I think we’ll be more than okay.”
With Hilary leading the way, the McMaster women’s basketball team is on the right road to suc-cess this season.
“I hope that I can remain being an impact player on and off the court,” said Hilary. “I just want to bring that excitement to the team and make sure they’re aware that we have so much potential and if we bring that confidence within each other and in ourselves each and every game we’re going to be okay no matter who is against us.”
Being that impact player is nothing new to the venerated guard. With a promising future on the horizon for the Marauders, this will not be the last we hear of Hilary Hanaka.