Anndea Zeigler has no more worlds to conquer in high school basketball.
The Cardinal O’Hara standout leaves with an almost unmatched legacy:
-- She’s one of three players in Western New York history to be a first-team All-Western New York selection for three years; the others were Joelle Connelly of Pioneer (2006, 2007 and 2008) and Angela Tylec of Niagara Wheatfield (1997, 1998 and 1999).
-- Her teams haven’t lost to a squad from WNY since 2013 (72 straight wins).
-- The Hawks won their fourth straight Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association title this spring.
Zeigler’s career was climaxed by a superb senior season. Therefore, she exits with one more local honor – the Sister Maria Pares Player of the Year in Western New York.
The News’ Player of the Year honor has been renamed in memory of the late hall of fame coach who was a pioneer of girls sports in Western New York during her tenure as basketball coach at Sacred Heart (1974-86 and 1999-2015).
“I don’t know how to feel right now,” Zeigler said about the end of her career. “I’m kind of sad, but I’m anxious to see what college will hold for me. I’m going to miss high school basketball and my friends. This is bittersweet.”
As you’d expect, Hawks coach Nick O’Neil did not argue about the senior’s selection.
“I definitely agree with that pick,” he said. “I go way back to Curtis Aiken, Jason Rowe, Paul Harris. They were previous all-WNY selections multiple times. When you get to that senior year, I’m not going to say you should win it, but I expected her to be in the running for it.”
Zeigler is not one of those players who attracts attention with spectacular actions. She’s not overly flashy, so it takes a few minutes to appreciate all she does.
What she does well is everything, and that versatility is her strong point. Need someone to drive to the basket? Shoot the ball from outside? Make the correct pass? The 5-foot-9 senior checks all of the boxes.
Then on defense, Zeigler can guard just about anyone regardless of height. She even won an opening tap against 6-4 Amari DeBerry of Williamsville South. That skill gave O’Neil flexibility in terms of defensive matchups.
“This year, Anndea checked the 1 through 5 players in different games,” he said. “She guarded the smallest girl on the floor, and she guarded the tallest girl on the floor.
“I guarantee you that there aren’t many kids in Western New York or the state who can do that. Even downstate, when we play the New York City teams, their best players would not do that. The things Anndea does are very unique.”
Zeigler’s role on the team changed slightly this past season. Cardinal O’Hara has had some superb players in its run of its success, and some of them - like Summer Hemphill, who moved on to the University at Buffalo – had graduated. It’s always good when your best player is a leader, and Zeigler fit into that job smoothly.
“She’s been a leader since her freshman year, to be honest,” O’Neil said. “As a freshman we played a girl who was going to Michigan, and she said, ‘I want to check her.’ We put her on that girl, and she held her to 12 points and we won the game. That’s when I told (assistant) coach Dan McDermott, we’ve got a special kid here. Usually kids don’t want to go against the other good kid. But she wants to go against the best player regardless of position.
“In boys basketball, you’d call it an alpha male. I don’t know what you’d call it for a girl – maybe a beta female. But that’s what she is. She wants the toughest assignment.”
Zeigler’s season had only one hiccup. A broken thumb sidelined her for four games in the middle of the season, although the injury came with the proverbial silver lining.
“I had a slowdown when I broke it, but that made me realize just how much I loved basketball,” she said. “Coming back, I tried to go as hard as I could to end my season as best as I could. It was good to see my team still win while I was gone. They knew what to do.”
O’Neil added, “Throughout her career, she had some setbacks. But she always came back strong. She always worked on her injury. A lot of the credit goes to her parents. Her dad works with her a lot.”
Soon it will be time to take the next step, as she heads to play at college. The decision to attend Canisius College wasn’t a difficult one, for a slightly surprising reason.
“I’m a little bit of a mama’s girl, so I wanted to stay home and do something no one has done before,” Zeigler said. “I wanted to stay in Buffalo and give little kids a reason to look up at people who came from Buffalo.”
That’s a big challenge, and the future Golden Griffin knows the transition to college ball will be difficult.
“It’s going to be hell,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of work coming up.”
Zeigler’s versatility means it might take a while for Canisius to figure out where she should play. Zeigler feels most comfortable on the wing in a shooting guard/small forward role, but says it doesn’t matter. Golden Griffins coach Terry Zeh probably likes the idea of having someone who feels at home at any position.
No matter where she plays, though, O’Neil is convinced that the best is yet to come.
“I expect bigger things from her at Canisius,” he said. “I think she’s going to be outstanding in college. I think she’s going to be one of the best players ever to come out of Canisius.”