All of the hard work Nicole Hayner (Bedford, NH) has put in to the game of basketball has paid off, and now she has a Division I scholarship. Growing up Hayner has always been one of the top local players in her grade, but over the past couple of years she has taken her game to new heights and this year she emerged as the best outside shooter in the NHIAA.
Now Hayner, who recently graduated from Bishop Guertin High, has committed to attend and play basketball at UMass Lowell.
"Until April, I thought I had my life set for the next year" said Hayner, a 5-foot-9 wing player. "My plan was to do a PG year at Brewster because I had interest from some Division I and II programs who wanted to see me play more this summer. But after playing in the Deep South Classic with the Rivals, my situation changed. Several coaches expressed interest in me for the coming academic year and I received offers from Fairleigh Dickinson University and UMass Lowell. I was very impressed with Coach Behn at UMass Lowell during my visit. I really like her coaching style and the type of plays she likes to run. She was an exceptional player and really knows the game. She thought I would fit in well with the team, especially because of my shooting. Coach Behn offered me the chance to play this coming year instead of waiting until 2014, which I was definitely interested in doing. Although Brewster is a great school and I was looking forward to my year there, now I get the chance to be part of a new Division I program at UML and I'm really excited about that."
Hayner has helped lead Guertin to back-to-back D-I title game appearances, winning the championship in 2012. She was an all-state selection both years.
"I started playing basketball when I was 5 in a program at the Merrimack Y and have been playing ever since on travel, school and AAU teams" Hayner told the NH Notebook. "I love the game and have always tried to improve. During the past couple of years, I worked out pretty much every day to raise the level my game. In addition to practices, I did workouts for conditioning and also for shooting. My training coach, Miguel Gonzalez, has helped me a lot."
Hayner becomes the third member of the BG girls basketball team to earn a D-I scholarship, with Meghan Green (Boston University) and Jamie Sherburne (Niagara) being the others. The Cardinals have gone 56-3 over the past two years under head coach Scott Hazelton and they have 3 girls going D-I, that's very impressive stuff.
"Playing for Coach Hazelton, both on the Bishop Guertin team and on the Rivals, has been a great experience" said Hayner. He is tough and demanding, but he pushes me to accomplish things that I didn't know I could do. He knows what it takes to be play at the college level and often told me that I was a scholarship player. Because I played with two other Division I scholarship players at BG, my contributions were often overshadowed. But I appreciate that he believed in me, encouraged me and pushed me to work hard."
Hazelton coached Hayner at BG and was also her AAU coach with the Rivals the past couple of years. And earlier this week Hazelton was named as an assistant coach for the UMass Lowell women's basketball team. There he will continue to coach Hayner, as well as two more of his former Rivals AAU players in Amra Elezovic and Melissa Frase (both NH products).
"Nikki has come a long way in the last two years" said Hazelton. "She's brought her game to a whole other level. I think she was one of the most underrated players in the state. She had a great senior season at BG and at times was our best player. Nikki has a knack for scoring and is able to go on rolls where she scores in bunches. She really turned a lot of heads this past April during the viewing period! Nikki was offered scholarships from Umass Lowell, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and had serious interest from Bucknell. Over the past year she's put some serious effort into improving her shot , ball handling , and conditioning . She works out with trainer Miguel Gonzales 4 to 5 times a week and it's really paid off for her . I'm extremely excited for Nikki she definitely deserves it! I think Nikki will have a good college career, and fit in well at UML. UML plays a style of ball that Nikki has become accustomed to. They were in need of a knock down shooter and Nikki fits that mold!"
Lowell is very close in proximity to Hayner's hometown of Bedford, NH which also appealed to her.
"The fact the UML is so close to home definitely factored into my decision to commit" said Hayner, who is also an excellent passer in addition to being an elite shooter. "I knew when I started thinking about college that I wanted to be close to home. My parents are my biggest supporters so now they and my family and friends can come see me play."
UMass Lowell enters its first season as a Division I program this winter, officially leaving the D-II Northeast-10 conference for the America East.
"I played AAU for the Shooting Stars and NE Crusaders before playing for the Rivals" Hayner concluded. "My dad coached me for many years on both AAU teams and we were very successful coming in third and fifth at Nationals (Shooting Stars). He was a great coach and I learned a lot from him about the fundamentals of the game. However, joining the Rivals has been the best AAU experience I've had and has had a huge impact on my game. The coaches are former players who know so much about the game and are willing to work with all of us. I have had the opportunity to play with and against so many Division I players over the past two years at top national tournaments and that helped elevate my game. I didn't get a chance to play with the two former Rivals who are at UML, so it didn't really affect my decision to go there. However, I know of them and they are really good players. I think we will have a very competitive team next year at UML!"
Congratulations to Nicole, and best of luck to her at the next level.