SanFranPreps.com Female Athlete of the Year: Maria Kemiji-McDonald
By Jeremy Balan
Maria Kemiji-McDonald is a dying breed.
In the age of specialization, where athletes, specifically in high school, improve on skills by focusing on one sport, Kemiji-McDonald has played three at St. Ignatius for her entire high school career.
For the second year in a row, Kemiji-McDonald is the SanFranPreps.com Female Athlete of the Year, not only because she plays three sports, but because she excels at them all.
In basketball, her best sport, the senior led the Wildcats in scoring (13.1 points per game), was just the second St. Ignatius girls basketball player to win West Catholic Athletic League Player of the Year and missed All-City POY honors by the slimmest of margins (but was named to the first team).
“She has a tremendous will to win,” said St. Ignatius head girls basketball coach Mike Mulkerrins. “She absolutely hates losing, and especially in basketball, she tried to put the team on her back.”
In the fall, she was one of the main offensive threats for the volleyball team as an outside hitter, earning a WCAL honorable mention selection and second-team All-City honors.
But it was her performance in the spring season that caught the attention of the University of Michigan.
Nearly every season, because of the basketball team’s success, Kemiji-McDonald missed a chunk of the lacrosse season. When she joined the team, however, she was a leader, and scored five goals twice this season, against Monte Vista and Amador Valley.
Maybe more importantly, it was her impact on the defensive side of the field as a rangy midfielder that helped the Wildcats’ lacrosse team the most.
“We’re really fortunate to have a great group of athletes come through our school, but she has risen above,” said St. Ignatius head girls lacrosse coach Amy Harms. “It takes a unique athlete to do all those things well. I’m jealous of all the other sports, where they had her for the whole season, but she made us better.”
Although Kemiji-McDonald only played competitive high school lacrosse for a combined eight months and didn’t pick up a stick until her freshman year, she is headed to Michigan to play at the Division I level.
She will attend Michigan, but won’t play next season, because the school won’t have a team yet. Michigan will play its inaugural season when she is in her sophomore year.
“It’s an exceptional opportunity for her,” Harms said. “Obviously, lacrosse is a booming sport, but to be able to be a part of the first team at the school is amazing. She’s choosing the sport that she has the most potential in.”
Her work ethic has also inspired an almost mythical portrayal at the school.
“She came to practice to kick your ass,” Mulkerrins said. “We tell our players to use the gym as a sanctuary – to come and compete. She came in here and competed, whether it was jumping rope, doing liners or layup drills. By doing that in practice, she knew no other way than to get after it.”
She had offers to play basketball at Division II and Division III schools, but the fact that she chose lacrosse and has the ability to play at an elite level speaks to just how exceptional her athletic ability is and was in her time at St. Ignatius.
“If she chose any one of those three sports to focus on, who knows what she could have done?” Mulkerrins said. “She’s a rare, phenomenal athlete and I don’t know if we’re going to be able to see another [like her] in this era of high school sports.”
Honorable Mention: Amelia King, senior, University
Maybe the best center in the City during her career with the University girls basketball team, King led the Red Devils in scoring (16.5 points per game), rebounds (11.2) and blocks (4.6) and earned first-team All-City honors in her senior season. Her blocking average ranked second in the North Coast Section.
As a standout on the University track and field team, King led the Red Devils to a NCS Class A championship by scoring 24.5 of the team’s 67 total points. She won the section title in the 100-meter hurdles, finished second in the long jump and third in the high jump, and was also a part of a relay team.
Honorable Mention: Courtney Sabahi, senior, Mercy
A first-team All-West Bay Athletic League and All-City selection in volleyball and basketball, Sabahi may be one of the most decorated athletes in Mercy’s history.
Sabahi was in the discussion for City Volleyball Player of the Year in both her junior and senior seasons, and averaged a double-double (13 points and 11 rebounds per game) for the Skippers’ basketball team in her senior year.
Honorable Mention: Natalie Kelly, sophomore, International
The Jaguars’ quick, sharpshooting point guard on the basketball team also played on International’s BCL West-winning badminton squad and also thrived on the school’s tennis team that finished second in the BCL West.
Honorable Mention: Katie Waters, senior, Lick-Wilmerding
Likely the only City athlete to compete in four varsity sports last season, Waters was a starter in soccer and basketball during her senior year at Lick-Wilmerding, but also played key roles on the Tigers’ volleyball and track and field teams.
Honorable Mention: Cathy Cai, senior, Lincoln
A first-team All-Academic Athletic Association selection in girls volleyball as the Mustangs’ starting middle blocker, Cai also won the AAA title in shot put and finished second in the discus throw as a member of Lincoln’s track and field team.