Solon 5-foot-11 junior Hailey Weaver was busy chasing another deep playoff run with her Lady Comet teammates during Division I hoops in late February, and that was all that mattered.
The standout wing recently made up her mind about where she’d continue her basketball career collegiately, but she didn’t care to make it public at the time. She didn’t need the extra attention on her.
Instead, Weaver let her game speak for itself during the Lady Comets’ come-from-behind upset against Medina in the district semifinals, helping to secure her program’s ninth straight trip to a district title game. Her 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists created enough noise in a 52-51 victory.
The Solon girls overcame a 29-13 halftime deficit behind a 25-point third quarter that featured seven treys. Senior Julia Gersey finished with five 3-pointers, while freshman Morgan Blackford scored the game-winning bucket to put the Lady Comets up, 52-49, with 52 seconds remaining.
Seniors Nadia Gibson, six points, and Maria Leskovec, four points, had just played in their final victory in Lady Comets attire and deserved the spotlight, before Solon went on to lose its district title game against Magnificat, 60-44, on Feb. 28.
All the while, Weaver had already given her verbal commitment to the Northwestern University’s women’s basketball program in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago, but she didn’t announce it to the world until March 1.
“My parents and I agreed that we didn’t want to change the team’s focus from the playoffs to my commitment,” Weaver said. “We wanted to wait until after the season was over to officially announce it.”
Weaver averaged 16.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 3.6 steals and 0.8 blocks per game as a junior this winter season, leading the Lady Comets to a 15-10 campaign as the lone returning starter. She was named a third-team all-Ohioan by the Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association.
Weaver is a three-star recruit with a scout’s grade of 90, according to ESPN. She is ranked 19th in the nation for her position and is just outside the class of 2021 Super 60 of four- and five-star recruits with 91 grades and higher, according to the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.
Weaver was the first recruit in the class of 2021 to commit to Northwestern. She said the universities of Michigan and Pittsburgh were also among her top-three choices.
“We visited some other schools earlier in the fall, and I think every school I went to, it was great, but I always compared it to Northwestern,” she said. “I love the coaches there. Every time we talked with them we were blown away by everything.
“And then the visits, they were amazing, and their team has really progressed over the past few years with sharing the Big 10 title this year with Maryland.”
The Northwestern Wildcats ended their coronavirus-shortened campaign 26-4 with a 16-2 mark in the Big Ten – splitting their series against Maryland – and with the No. 11 ranking in the nation, according to the AP poll. They were fixing for a No. 3 seed in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Northwestern is under the tutelage of 12th-year head coach Joe McKeown, while the Wildcats’ recruiting coordinator is third-year assistant Kate Popovec, who played her junior and senior seasons at Northwestern, after transferring from Pittsburgh.
“I’m really close with her, and my mom always texts her,” Weaver said. “And Joe, he’s just a great person and just a great coach. We can just tell that the girls love him and they love the school. Every time we visited it was just mind-blowing, and we loved it. And I think we’ve known for a little bit that it was Northwestern, but we just had to make sure.”
Following Weaver’s freshman year at Solon, when she came off the bench to play 16 minutes in the Division I championship game during the Lady Comets’ 26-3 state runner-up campaign, she attended an elite camp at Northwestern that first got her hooked to the program, she said.
Weaver said the camp featured some light drills, but she really stood out and caught coach McKeown’s attention during five-on-five play.
“That’s when he started talking to my parents and when everything kind of happened,” she said. “I was having a good shooting day that day, and I was also making some good defensive plays. And I was really trying to get my teammates involved.
“You know, at elite camps, everybody is just trying to stand out. So, I was trying to help the team and sharing the ball and making the hustle plays – those were kind of my key areas.”
Weaver started playing AAU basketball in fourth grade but didn’t participate in exposure events until seventh grade, and then she started getting letters of interest from various colleges in eighth grade. She picked up her first offer in ninth grade.
Then the recruitment offers really started to pour in the summer of her sophomore year, she said.
“Once I got to high school and everything with basketball started to happen, I kind of quit playing those other sports,” Weaver said of soccer and track. “I ran track my freshman year, but then I just decided to focus on basketball.”
Her sophomore year, Weaver and then-senior Sammi Rinicella were the only returners with any significant playing time from the previous year’s playoff run.
Weaver was in a starting lineup with all seniors and more or less took over the leadership role on the court, averaging 15.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 3.1 steals a game to backbone a 21-5 campaign that ended with a regional runner-up finish to Eastlake North, 64-63.
“I think, going through my freshman year, not having as big as a role, was really helpful to push me toward having a great sophomore year,” Weaver said. “Because in college, I may be in the same situation, where I’m just trying to get minutes. A lot of players don’t have to go through that in high school, but we had such a great team my freshman year.”
After Weaver was the first 2021 commit to Northwestern on March 1, two more recruits followed suit soon after. Jillian Brown, a 5-foot-10 guard out of East Grand Rapids, Michigan, committed on March 17; and then Melannie Daley, a 5-foot-9 guard out of Hastings, New York, committed on March 27.
While Weaver held out on telling her teammates about her decision until after their 2020 postseason run, she received nothing but support, she said.
“They were super happy for me, I mean, all of them – classmates, teammates, coaches,” Weaver said. “And they said I look good in purple. So, it must be right.”