LHS basketball player Khalin Hemingway holds the ball during a 42-10 home loss to West Windsor-Plainsboro North Jan. 22, 2019. (Staff photo by Samantha Sciarrotta.)

Khalin Hemingway could be counting down the days until spring track. The Lawrence High School senior is the defending champion in the 100-meter hurdles at the outdoor track Mercer County Championships, and is being recruited to run in college, but she’s in no hurry to end her basketball career.

“I feel like basketball is the sport I love,” Hemingway said. “I’m great at track, I feel like it’s something that I was born to do, but my heart lies in basketball.”

The youngest of five children, Hemingway didn’t take up basketball until seventh grade. From the beginning, she was always gifted defensively and that remains her top talent. She never worries about her scoring. She isn’t even sure of her career-high.

“I don’t know,” Hemingway said. “I’d have to look it up.”

Her career-high is nine points, and she often only scores a basket or two in a game, but Hemingway is valuable to the Cardinals with her unselfish play offensively and her defensive presence. Since she started playing high school basketball, she’s drawn the opposing team’s top scorer.

“It’s fun for me,” Hemingway said. “I love the challenge to get the toughest player on the other team and getting to throw them off their game as well as helping my team at the same time. I enjoy it.”

Hemingway was a defensive menace with three points, nine rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots in Lawrence’s 65-35 win over Stem Civics on Jan. 17. It was the Cardinals’ second win of the season.

“It was fun for them to have that win,” said Lawrence second-year head coach Antonio Stapleton. “Their confidence has started to steadily rise.”

Lawrence had three players in double-digit scoring against Stem Civics. Sadena Rishindran had 15 points, Briana Audet scored 14 points and Haley Lestician had 13 points. Adeline Ripberger was a basket away from double figures with eight points.

“The best thing our team can do is work together,” Hemingway said. “We all have an equal share of effort. The only way for us to win is to work together as one team.”

It’s a young Cardinals team. Hemingway, Ripberger and Sydney Schreiber are the only three seniors on the team this year, and while they want to exit with a good senior year they’re also working to establish the foundation for future success.

“Our biggest goal is creating stronger team chemistry, starting in the offseason, not just coming to pick up a ball as soon as basketball season starts,” Hemingway said. “Getting the team together in the summer to play so that the team chemistry is there. Once the team chemistry is there, even if the skills lack, I feel like that’s the strongest thing to bring us all together.”

Stapleton is in his second season at the helm of the program. He’s altered his approach this year to work more effectively with the girls team, and he’s slowly seeing growth.

“I think it’s a learning process,” Stapleton said. “They see what they need to work on and see how they can improve every time they get on the court, just to be stronger with the ball and be positive going forward.

“This group is more coming together to find that chemistry,” he added. “By doing that, they communicate much better together and find each other faster than usual.”

Hemingway gives the Cardinals someone committed to helping the team any way possible. She doesn’t need to score to contribute offensively.

“I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m an assist maker. I like seeing the court, passing to my teammates. I don’t mind how much I score. I don’t really pay attention when I do score. People ask me at the end of games, ‘How much did you score?’ I don’t know.”

At the other end, Hemingway relishes the chance to frustrate opposing scorers. She’s been doing it her entire career.

“I look directly into their eyes and I stay low,” she said. “I can see wherever they’re going. I don’t watch the ball. I look directly at their face and them just knowing ‘you’re not going to get past me.’ I just keep doing it and eventually they know they’re not going to get past me so they pass the ball.”

Her attitude is good for a growing team. She brings the Cardinals a veteran who knows her role and provides energy and defense.

“Khalin is tough and positive and she hustles,” Stapleton said. “She’s the leader. She brings the team together positively and overall she’s a good person to have in your corner.”

The Cardinals are hoping more wins are coming their way, and they are taking steps to get better. Expectations are growing.

“All around the court our team has improved because we’ve kind of been on a decline,” Hemingway said. “Our defense is definitely becoming a bigger asset, and we’re being more dependable for teammates. Rather than one person on the court doing what they’re supposed to do, all of us are coming together. Offensively, a lot more players on our team are becoming more comfortable in becoming a shooting threat or catching the ball and looking to shoot.”

Lawrence has remained positive as they build their program up. Going through some losing could be tough for someone as competitive as Hemingway, but she’s never regretted playing basketball.

“It’s really tough,” Hemingway said, “but I feel at this point, I’ve been with this team about four years and we haven’t been on the high end, so I’m not going to hate my team because they’re not winning. The only time I’m truly angry with my team is when we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do or I’m not performing to the best of my ability. If we go out and we all play to the best of our ability I’m never disappointed in my team.”

Stapleton has seen his team working to improve daily. He’s hopeful that a good finish to the season can help foster more improvement.

“I’m looking for their maturity and looking for them to keep plugging away,” Stapleton said. “It’s just them coming together and working on their weaknesses and plugging away. That’s what makes me happy.”

Hemingway is working to finish her basketball career on a high note. Following this season, she will turn her focus from the sport of basketball that she has loved to play to committing full-time to track for college.

“I think basketball is helping her for track,” Stapleton said. “She’s staying in shape, she’s jumping because she’s going after rebounds, and the sprints and all that lateral movement help.”