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Letter of Intent Signing: Quick recovery assists Heinold’s path to Daemen

Immaculata senior Taylor Heinold signs her letter of intent to play with Daemen College as she sits with, from left, Bears’ head coach Andrea Drabik; her mother, Andrea, and father, Chris. (Photo by Michael J. Petro)
It wasn’t a topic Taylor Heinold and Immaculata particularly wanted to talk much about at the beginning of the season.

Heinold had tore her ACL in the offseason, and as the Immaculata senior was searching for a college suitor and approaching the 1,000-point mark during a season with so much promise for the Bears, both the player and school were collectively holding their breathe as the season approached.

Well, both can now exhale. Heinold made a quick and somewhat miraculous recovery from the injury to help lead Immaculata to an impressive 13-4 season so far playing an independent schedule. Heinold’s also eclipsed the 1,000-point mark and in her latest accomplishment, lived out a dream by signing her letter of intent to play at the Division II level with Daemen.

For a season that started with question marks, Heinold has emphatically answered them with explosive play in her fourth season with the varsity.

“I was able to come back from it,” said Heinold, who’s averaging 18.6 points and is also a relentless rebounder and defender from her shooting guard position. “I feel like there’s a little bit of difference but not a huge difference. Physical therapy was really good for me. My dad was tough on me to make sure I did it everyday and I think it really helped me to get back...Everyday, I did a little more, then a little more until it was back.

Heinold made a quick recovery, after only several months coming back from an injury that costs some players nearly a year in rehab. As soon as she could stand, Heinold said she was outside shooting, but she admits it took a while just to use the leg to drive in for a lay-up.

“I don’t know really how to put it, because some people said you should have been out for six to 12 months and I came back earlier,” she said. “Everyone said it would be a big obstacle for me to overcome, and it obviously was horrible when it happened, but after doing the physical therapy, it didn’t seem that bad.”

It took hard work to not only get back but excel as she also did last season, when she averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, and Daemen head women’s basketball coach David Skolen took notice, wrangling in Heinold. Daemen is in the first season of a three-year process to become an official NCAA Division II member.

Skolen was there as Heinold signed her letter of intent at Immaculata Academy on Wednesday (Jan. 30).

“I really like her toughness,” said Skolen, who’s in his 21st season as the college’s head coach. “Obviously, I’m sure at the beginning of the year she was a little tentative coming off an ACL tear quicker than anybody really has before. The fact that she was even out there, shows the work she put in to get back to the court. She’s a very intense player and again, a hard worker, so I think we’re getting a well-rounded player.”

Skolen also has known Heinold since she was little, through a friendship he has had with her father, Chris Heinold, since they’re playing days. While Chris was an accomplished player with Division I Canisius College, Skolen set Daemen school record for points, assists and three-point field goals.

Actually, Taylor used to go to games as a youngster and stand in the shooting line with players during warm-ups.

Skolen has gotten to see a little girl mature and turn into what he described as a scorer with ability to shoot from the outside and inside and slash to the basket, along with being a defender who as a taller guard causes match-up problems and constantly breaks up passes and creates turnovers.

“I really like Daemen because it’s close and I’ve known coach Skolen since I was really little,” Taylor said. “He used to play basketball with my dad and I’ve known him for a while, so I always knew he was a good coach.

“The opportunity to play for Daemen is really appealing because it’s close to home but it’s not right next door,” she added. “So, I can visit on the weekends but still get the experience of being away from home. With them going D-II, I think that’s really awesome, too. With my dad playing D-I, I’ve always wanted to play D-I or II. The competition will be really good.”

Daemen is making the transition from the NAIA to Division II, so in its first year is without a conference but playing with a smaller affiliation in the United States Collegiate Athletic Assocaition, which offers a postseason to its approximately 80 member schools nationwide.

The next two seasons, Daemen will begin play in Division II’s East Coast Conference but will not yet be eligible for postseason play. Daemen will become a full NCAA Division II member and fully join the ECC in the 2015-16 academic year.

Daemen remains a strong team this year in women’s basketball, posting an 11th straight 20-win season and holding the top spot in USCAA heading to the postseason. Daemen will lose five seniors off what’s already a small team number-wise, so there will be opportunity immediately for Heinold in this latest recruiting class as they set the groundwork for the program.

“It’s an exciting time at Daemen,” Skolen said. “It’s a great fit for Taylor, because she can come right in and contribute. We’re really excited about our prospects with players like her coming in.”

It’s also an exciting time for Immaculata, which will see one of its best players all-time go on to compete at the next level. Taylor, who has a freshman sister, Jordan, following in her footsteps playing up on the Immaculata varsity, is currently second on the Bears’ all-time scoring list.

“It’s been nice to see it all come to fruition for her after working with her for four years and seeing her grow and develop. Then she hit a bump in the road, but it’s been nice seeing her remain so determined and work so hard to come back,” said Immaculata head coach Andrea Drabik, who is also happy to see Heinold continue to have a passion for the game.

“She’s had so many opportunities and was able to pick a good school, while her family, which is so close, will still be able to come out and go to her games, which I know was important to them,” Drabik added.

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