One of the key cogs in No. 1 Aberdeen's run to its second straight state final four, senior guard Lakeia Hayden is the Eagles' floor director.
Although more a shooting guard, she ran the point last season and now shared those duties with freshman Kierra Palmer. She combines smart play and a keen eye for her teammates with a lethal 3-point shot. Hayden, who has played this season with a torn meniscus and a partially-torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee, averages eight points and three assists for the Eagles (25-1) who face Frederick, the team that beat them in last year's state final, in the Class 3A semifinals Thursday at 9 p.m. at UMBC.
An AAU veteran, Hayden plans to play basketball in college, possibly at Stevenson, Holy Family or Florida Gulf Coast. She also played volleyball and threw the discus and shot put for the track team. She is also a member of the school dance team and is on the senior council and student leadership council. Planning to become a nurse practitioner, she has a 3.2 GPA.
How were you introduced to basketball?
My family had a basketball team. They coached the park and rec team and me and my cousins all played on the same team. There were seven of us.
Did you play whenever you had a family get-together?
We played when we had a cookout or something, but we actually lived near each other too so we would go to Hillsdale Elementary School and we would all play outside on the court.
When did basketball become your passion?
Around eighth grade knowing that I was coming up to high school the next year and talking with my dad. He was telling me this could be a way to help me to go college. It kicked in that if I'm serious about it I've got to be serious, still play for fun but be focused about it.
What is your role on this Aberdeen team?
My role is mainly being the leader on the floor, setting the tempo of the game, starting off the plays and as a captain, keeping my team together. Even when we have our differences, we have to come together.
As a point guard, how do you walk that fine line between taking charge and not stepping on anyone's toes, especially on a team with so many good players?
As a point guard, I have to know who my players are and what they're good at. I know Bri [Jones] can post up and get the ball. Jimmia [McCluskey]'s fast and I don't have to worry about her missing the ball. Nia [Alleyne], I know where she likes her shots at. So as a point guard, I know their strengths and I know their weaknesses. I use that help keep things running smoothly.
Does having Kierra take a little pressure off you?
Yes, a whole lot of pressure, because I'm not a point guard, but last year I had to step up and fill that position. This year with her coming in and now starting at point guard, it helps me a lot because I'm a shooting guard, and with my knee hurt, we have a backup.
What have you enjoyed the most about this season?
I enjoy our team chemistry. We get along so well and have so much fun on and off the court. We got a lot closer this year, and it feels really good to win a lot and to have the opportunities that we've had going to Coppin [for the Basketball Academy] and the Beast of the East Tournament. This is the first time in high school that we've had these opportunities, and I'm just glad I got to do that my senior year and play with all the girls.
How did the team handle losing to Riverdale Baptist, which was your only loss, so late in the season?
We knew that they were going to be a tough team. We really didn't have anything to lose. They were ranked higher than us, so we just thought if we win, that proves a lot to us we really are a good team, but if we lose, we're not losing anything, it was just an experience to play a nationally-ranked team. After the loss, there was a lot of tension, but we win as a team and we lose as a team. We just kept moving.
Do you think that experience helped your team?
Since we're so used to beating most teams pretty bad, it kept us humble. We still have a lot to work on and it helped us for the playoffs because we're going to see tough teams.
What's the best part of your game?
I think the best part of my game is seeing the floor. I have a connection with everyone on the floor. I know where Nia's going to be, I know where Jimmia's going to be, I know where Bri's going to be and I know how TK [Fowleks] likes the ball, so I make eye contact with them and they know where I'm about to pass it.
What happened to your knee?
Over the summer in AAU we had a tournament at Penn State in late July, and I banged knees with a girl. When I had an MRI, I tore my meniscus and I partially tore my ACL.
What went into the decision to keep playing and not have surgery?
My doctor told me if I had surgery I wouldn't be able to play at all. Since he said I could do physical therapy and see what happened, I went to physical therapy like every day of the summer, doing weight training, trying to strengthen my knee again. It's my senior year. I wanted to play so bad.
You've had a couple of tough collisions and falls this season, including one that forced you to sit out about a third of the Riverdale Baptist game. How do you keep bouncing back from those?
It happens a lot. It'll hurt. It'll be sore, but I ice, I pray and I take Motrin and it works for me.
Will you have surgery after the season?
I think I'm not going to do anything with my ACL, because it's not fully torn, but I am going to scope my knee out for my meniscus.
What moment of you sporting life would you most like to live over?
Last year at states. Looking back, I wish that we could have done a lot of the things we needed to to win states that time instead of losing. That was just a hard loss.
Are you superstitious?
A little bit. Before every game, I sleep. I don't talk to anybody, I just sleep. Then, I always pop a Motrin, pray and I always listen to the same song over and over and over again, "Ex-Factor" by Lauryn Hill.
What's your most prized possession and why?
My phone. I paid for my phone by myself with all of my saved-up money, and I don't know what I would do without it. I have an iPhone 4S.
Who do you look up to?
I look up to my older brother, Markese. He's 21. He was the first person in my family to actually go to college, and he guided me through high school. When I have problems, I go to him and talk to him. He's the one who actually motivated me to keep playing basketball after I got hurt.
How sorry will you be to see this basketball season end?
I will be so sad. I'll probably cry for two days straight, because it's my last year and in my senior year I got to do everything with my team. We're having a great season, and just the opportunity to go back to UMBC is so special and I love my team so much.