Hannah Calloway laces them up in the Valley one last time
Theodore Roosevelt once said “nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” Those words nearly describe Hannah Calloway's career perfectly.
On Feb. 17, the Swannanoa Valley native stepped onto McAlister Gymnasium court for the final time when the Montreat College women’s basketball team played its last home game of the season. Getting there was no easy task.
Calloway’s basketball journey began at the age of five when she began playing on a local 7-and-under team. "I didn’t play much, I was just there,” she said. “But I learned a lot.” At age eight, she joined the Lady Royals Basketball Club of WNC and began playing for Joe Carrington, who would take over the girls varsity basketball program at Carolina Day School in 2009.
“Joe’s knowledge of basketball and his ability to figure out how to win is amazing,” Calloway said. “He played a big role in my growth as a basketball player.”
Calloway patterned her basketball style after her favorite player on her beloved Duke University Blue Devils. “I grew up idolizing J.J. Redick,” she said of the 2006 national college player of the year. “I wanted to be a shooter like him, and he’s the reason I’ve worn number 4 pretty much my whole life.”
After two seasons on the Owen Middle School team, Calloway chose to play for Carrington, her former AAU coach who in his first season at Carolina Day guided the Wildcats to a 23-1 record. Calloway was a key addition to the Wildcat program, Carrington said.
“Hannah has always been a responsible kid and mature beyond her years,” said Carrington, now in his ninth season as the head coach of the Carolina Day program. “As a ball player she’s always been a hard worker.”
It was on the court at Carolina Day where Calloway would receive her advanced basketball education.
“If I learned anything about the game of basketball, it was definitely at Carolina Day,” she said. “I was in a setting with a whole starting five of (NCAA Division I) players. And I practiced with them every day.”
Wins came regularly for the Wildcats, who won four state championships in the 2-A class in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association. But the game was anything but easy, according to Calloway.
“Practicing with that level of talent forces you to improve,” she said. “When I was in middle school I knew I wanted to play college ball, but going to Carolina Day put me in a position to play against really talented competition.”
It wasn’t an easy decision for Calloway to leave the Owen district to attend the private school in Asheville. “She had a dream to play college basketball, and she was willing to do the work to get there,” Carrington said. “We’re proud of everything she’s accomplished.”
When it came time to choose a college, Calloway didn’t want to leave the mountains. She had been to Montreat several times as a child to play on the playground. But she didn’t know much about the college there.
After four years at Carolina Day, however, Calloway felt right at home on the Montreat College campus. The Cavaliers basketball team was getting someone who is “a leader, and mature beyond her years,” her former high school coach said.
The college basketball experience would quickly prove to be a much different one for Calloway, who was named all-conference and earned an honorable mention on the All-WNC team following her senior season in high school. Calloway, who voluntarily accepted a role off the bench as a senior in high school, was now starting as a freshman for the Cavaliers and being counted on as a scorer. The team finished 2-28 that season.
“That was a humbling experience,” she said. Though she was named to the Appalachian Athletic Conference All-Freshman team, the season was "very hard" for her, she said.
A year after committing to the program, Calloway helped recruit a new class of freshmen, which included Charlotte native Darah DeWalt. The two quickly became friends.
“The first time I interacted with people on the team was during the first open gym, after I was here for a couple of months,” DeWalt said. “I’m pretty sure we were on the same team that whole time, and we were getting buckets the whole time.”
The on-court chemistry between DeWalt, a physical presence in the front court, and Calloway, a consistent threat from beyond the three-point line, was immediate.
“Hannah really helped me make the transition from Charlotte,” DeWalt said. “We have a lot in common, so we do a lot of things together. She likes to take pictures, so we go ‘adventuring’ a lot.”
Everyone on the team respects Calloway, DeWalt said, and she is often the player teammates come to when they need advice.
With DeWalt, Calloway and a cast of new talent, the Cavs won 12 games in the 2015-16 season and upset number 1-seeded Milligan in the AAC tournament. Late that season, Calloway noticed a pain in her hip.
The guard missed her junior season after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum, a painful setback in her basketball career. The team struggled that year without Calloway, DeWalt said. But true to her role as a leader, Calloway found a way to stay involved.
"She was our biggest cheerleader that season, and she helped point out things on the court that we would miss at times," DeWalt said.
As Calloway returned to the court this year for the Cavs, a shoulder injury sidelined DeWalt. "We've been friends all these years and only played one season together," DeWalt said.
Despite the adversity, Calloway, heading into her final home game, looked back on her basketball career fondly.
"The whole experience has really helped shape me and grow as a person," she said. "I'm happy I came to Montreat."
A psychology major, she plans to pursue a master's degree after she graduates in May. Basketball will continue to play a role in her life, she said, although to what degree she's still unsure. Regardless of what the future holds, Calloway will likely be successful, according to Carrington.
"That kid turned into someone who is going to be a wonderful, contributing adult in this world," he said. "I don't know where her career path may take her, but I know she'll have success. I've known her so long, I love her like she's my own kid."