December 22, 2023
Playing through the pain, Seawell lifting balanced UMES to new heights
'This program is special to me; we're like a family'
The grandfather clock tattoo with dates on the right shoulder is a tribute to them.
They are Ariana Seawell‘s motivation.
Transforming adversity into purpose while grieving the death of her parents, the 6’2 University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) junior forward has been the catalyst behind the Hawks’ best start to a season since 2016. Seawell is a leading reason why a balanced UMES squad could win its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championship in program history because she’s fourth in the conference in rebounding (6.9 per game) and fifth in scoring (12.3 ppg).
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Despite the sterling numbers she’s produced this season, the Bronx native who aspires to be a sports journalist competes with a heavy heart.
She will never forget the phone call nor the distress in her grandmother’s voice telling Seawell that her father, Mark Hunter, died of cancer when she was 11 years old. One of her favorite memories of her father included him reading to her and spending lots of time in Barnes and Noble together.
“My mom had a sit down with me and told me my dad was sick at the time,” Seawell said. “It was hard. I was in my living room, and my grandmom called the house phone and asked to speak to my mom. She was at church. My grandmom didn’t want to wait, so she told me on the phone that my dad died. After that, I went to the church. I needed my mom. I hugged her and had our pastor pray for us. It affected me for a couple of years and was hard to accept.”
Seawell’s world was rocked again six years later. She will never forget the looks on her older sisters’ faces or hearing the sounds of their cries when her mother, Patricia, died from COVID-19 complications.
“I will never stop hurting, especially with how quickly everything happened,” Seawell said. “The world shut down around March 20, and she passed away on April 1. Her birthday was March 21, and she got sick the next day. Then she was gone. It’s still hard for me to grasp that she passed away. I didn’t have a final goodbye. She passed away alone. Nobody could see her. COVID took away my grieving moments. That was the hardest thing. I never had a chance to accept it. My mom was a great person.”
The tattooed phrase on her right forearm, “This too shall pass” is her daily reminder to continue pushing and doing great things on and off the basketball court. Her nine siblings have also been tremendous in helping Seawell through everything.
Seawell’s parents admired her determination to teach herself to become a basketball player. If Seawell wanted to practice and play at the neighborhood playground, she had to wake up at 8 a.m. On the days Seawell didn’t make it to the basketball court, she used an advertisement paper target taped on a wall in front of her building as the basket to practice her shooting.
Either way, Seawell would get some shots up, and that persistence has yielded enormous rewards for her. She was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Week on December 13.
Seawell’s emergence as a conference force has made a difference for the Hawks.
She scored a career-high 32 points in a road win at Wagner on December 16 in front of numerous friends and family. It was just one performance in a recent string of sterling efforts. With three double-doubles this season, Seawell has scored in double figures in eight consecutive games heading into UMES’ next game against Buffalo on December 30.
“She’s just a phenomenal kid,” UMES head women’s basketball coach Fred Batchelor said. “She’s one of the sweetest and toughest kids I’ve been around. She has an incredible personality. She’s extremely quiet and doesn’t say more than she needs to. Just a special kid. She’s had to do things on her own with the support of her sisters.”
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Yet, Seawell has been far from a solo show for the Hawks, who have gotten terrific contributions from several veterans fueled by a three-point loss to Howard in the MEAC semifinals last season. Graduate guard Mya Thomas averages 10.3 points per contest and 2.5 assists per game, which is fifth in the MEAC. Sophomore guard Jala Bannerman and senior guard Zamara Haynes each add 9.3 points per contest.
Seawell’s teammates are her rock.
“This program is special to me; we’re like a family,” Seawell said. “We know what we want this year and will sacrifice to put the team first. It’s shown up at the start of the season. You see us becoming closer as a team, and our connection is growing.”
Part of the Delmarva Peninsula region, UMES is a hidden gem of excellence located in Princess Anne, 13 miles south of Salisbury and 42 miles west of Ocean City. Sometimes, the school is forgotten because it’s located in a rural area, not in a heavily populated one like some other MEAC schools. It’s one of those places where you don’t end up by accident.
Batchelor is one of the longest-tenured head coaches in women’s basketball, in his 18th year in charge of the Hawks. He learned about Seawell through a photographer in New York who recommended the high schooler to him.
“Not knowing much about me, Coach B. took a chance on me,” Seawell said. “That’s how I got here. He didn’t make me feel pressured to come here to UMES. I knew I was making a big decision, and even though I was vulnerable at the time, he made me feel comfortable. He knew what I was going through and told me to take my time.”
Batchelor outlined explicitly what he needed from Seawell to earn significant playing time: rebound and score. Her improvement has been remarkable. Seawell scored 6.2 points as a freshman and pulled down 4.4 rebounds per contest. Last season, she averaged 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds.
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Seawell and the Hawks are excited to begin conference play, and they believe their experience will benefit them come March. No matter what happens, Seawell is a champion in the game of life. She’ll never stop hurting. Yet, Seawell continues pushing forward while lifting the UMES basketball program to new heights.
“My mom always wanted me to be better because where we grew up, it wasn’t the best neighborhood,” Seawell said. “There were people around us who were stagnant, and it opened my eyes to what I wanted for myself. I wanted to be a basketball player and put my all into that.”
Seawell remembers a conversation with her mom a year after her father’s passing.
“I made a promise,” Seawell recalled. “I told her, ‘You don’t have to worry about me’ because I will get a scholarship. Knowing that I fulfilled that and done so much in the three years here, I am unbelievably proud of myself. Coming here has pushed me, and I have also made them proud.”
Written by Rob Knox
Rob Knox is an award-winning professional and a member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by SI.com, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.