Hamilton Heights Lady Hawks find national success through great sacrifices on and off the court

Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Hamilton Heights senior Treasure Hunt, third from right, is honored during senior night for the 2019-20 season.
Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Hamilton Heights senior Treasure Hunt, third from right, is honored during senior night for the 2019-20 season.

Treasure Hunt is not your average teenage athlete, but then again, Hamilton Heights Christian Academy does not have a typical high school basketball program.

Hunt has helped the Lady Hawks become a national power, and their approach to practice and competition - including playing a schedule that annually takes the Chattanooga team to tournaments around the country - should be good preparation for her future as an NCAA Division I basketball player.

The 6-foot-2 guard has scored more than 2,000 points in her Hamilton Heights career while helping her senior class to a 101-9 record. Hunt has signed with Kentucky, meaning next season she will join forces with former Bradley Central star Rhyne Howard, the reigning Southeastern Conference women's basketball player of the year and an AP All-America first-team selection.

Hunt has no regrets about the sacrifices she has made to play for the Lady Hawks, who are coached by her mother, Keisha.

"We don't do what normal teams do," Treasure said. "But I wouldn't trade it for the world. We work constantly on our craft and have to handle a lot of things most high school players don't see. What has helped us the most is our chemistry. We all basically stay in the same house and know exactly how to play with each other."

The Lady Hawks (25-1) were second in the final MaxPreps.com Xcellent 25 national rankings for girls' basketball in 2019-20, the highest ranking for a Tennessee team. Their loss was in the second game of the season, in overtime to Fairmount (Ohio).

Although their national schedule means they rarely play at home, the Lady Hawks have been embraced wherever they go, Treasure said.

"Everyone on our team gets messages on social media talking about how much we inspire them to do whatever they want to do," Hunt explained. "We don't feel like stars, but to some of the kids across the country we are their role models, which is really cool. We always reply back to them and are extremely grateful for our fans."

photo Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Hamilton Heights senior Kamilla Cardoso has signed with Syracuse and has been rated one of the top five girls' basketball players in the country for the signing class of 2020.

While Hamilton Heights was on the verge of closing last spring, the school on Hickory Valley Road with an enrollment of fewer than 80 students received enough support from benefactors to remain open. By receiving a bid to this year's GEICO Nationals, the Lady Hawks also earned more than $10,000 for next year's budget.

The versatile Hunt and 6-foot-7 teammate Kamilla Cardoso - already a member of Brazil's national team - have helped propel a phenomenal season in which the two were selected to the McDonald All American and Jordan Brand Classic games, with both of those exhibitions played by the country's top seniors.

Central Arkansas signee Ruth Balogun is another key player, and Ashley Rojas starred in the postseason this year to help the Lady Hawks win their third National Association of Christian Athletes championship in four years.

As the runner-up of the famed GEICO Nationals in New York City in both 2017 and 2018, Hamilton Heights hopes to win the four-team tournament that has been postponed for the time being due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I gave up time with my family in Brazil to come here and try and reach the highest level possible," said Cardoso, who is ranked No 5 in the signing class of 2020 by ESPNW and was one of the five finalists for the Naismith award for girls' basketball. "This has been home for me now. I want to play in the WNBA one day, and this has been such a good fit for me."

Balogun's older sister Elizabeth, who recently completed her sophomore season at Louisville, was a McDonald's All American along with Hamilton Heights teammate Jazmine Massengill - now at Tennessee - in 2018. The Balogun sisters moved from Nigeria with their father five years ago, shortly after their mother died.

"Playing for Hamilton Heights is worth every sacrifice," Balogun said. "It's taught me hard work because we practice and train harder than any. We don't live the average teenage life, but this school has changed my life. It has also already prepared me for what I will see in college, and I am grateful."

Off the court, the team loves to cook for one another and watch TV together.

Even if they don't get to go to New York to play for a national title, this year's Lady Hawks are proud of the impact they made for Hamilton Heights.

"To achieve what we have and make it as far as we have is a dream come true," Hunt said. "To be a part of this program means a lot to me. Without a doubt, my mom is my biggest inspiration. She has continued to put everyone else before herself. She is my hero."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.