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Open Mike: IA sophomores emerge to hoops program forefront

RISING STARS — Three standout underclassmen forwards playing Saturday included, from left, Kayla Prentki of IA, Lindsay Gearhart of Eden and Jordan Heinold of IA. Photo by Michael Petro
One might say Immaculata’s sophomore class was forced to come of age on the early side, with such a young team and a season-ending injury to the team’s senior point guard RayAnn Call. Head coach Andrea Drabik prefers to say the athletes earned the opportunity.

Either way, both sides can agree that these youngsters are more than prepared to live up to the responsibilities that have come their way. Led by second-year varsity starter Jordan Heinold, a group of five sophomores, three of whom join the remaining two seniors active on the roster in the starting lineup, have played integral roles on the varsity.

At one point in Immaculata’s 48 – 33 win against Eden on Feb. 1, the team had all five sophomores on the court at once. The girls combined to score 38 of the team’s 48 points in the game as the Berars won a third straight game to improve to 9 – 7.

“The sophomores have really settled in to knowing that they can come out and compete now, which is nice to see in the second half of the season,” Drabik said.

But it hasn’t come without some growing, and physical pain, along the way. Heinold missed five games with a sprained ankle and strained hamstring and Emilee Chiavetta suffered a broken nose. The two joined sophomore guard Kristine Kline in the starting lineup Saturday. Kayla Prentki played in her first game since December, after displacing her knee cap. Sophomore Alyssa Choboy has also contributed this season.

“We’re all starting to get back on the court, so we feel back to full strength and we’re going to work very hard now,” Heinold noted.

The importance of Heinold cannot be underscored. When she was out, the Bears went on their worst skid of the season, losing four times in five games. The younger sister of the school’s all-time leading scorer Taylor Heinold, who is now playing as a freshman at Division II Daemen College, Jordan is building off the success she already had last season, as a 5-foot-10 versatile forward.

During her first game back, on Jan,. 25, she poured in 23 points and 18 rebounds in helping her team comeback from a 14-point halftime deficit in a 49 – 46 win against Christian Central. Heinold had already enjoyed 31- and 27-point performances, this season.

The 5-foot-9 Prentke, who hadn’t played since December, provided Immaculata with more punch in close to the basket and contributed to a dominating rebounding effort.

“It’s hard to play while trying to make sure you don’t get hurt again,” she said. “This was my first game back so I was really nervous to go out there, but it felt good.”

Chiavetta’s playing time increased when Call, a three-year starter, tore her ACL. It also opened up time for Kline and Choboy in a three-guard alignment played by Immaculata.

“Those were very big shoes to fill, because RayAnn is such a good player,” Chiavetta said. “We are a very young team. When she got hurt, we had to work together more and play more as a team.”

Whjile seniors Grace Coughlin and Abby Wind have provided leadership, the youngsters knew when Call went down, it was their time to step up.

“The first thing coach said to us, when we heard about RayAnn, is that we’re not going to give up this season,” Heinold remembered. “Our main goal is still to go to states and just because we had a bump in the road, don’t lose yourself. You have to be more aggressive and things have to be pulled together now.”

The team will need more of those wins in the final five games, if its to earn a state independent school tournament berth. Immaculata, a past champion of that tournament, found that out the hard way a few seasons ago when it missed the tournament, even after a quality season.

There’s plenty more opportunity to prove itself playing a solid large school in Hamburg (Feb. 8), solid small school in Holland (Feb. 14) and private school in Nichols on Feb. 18 in the regular season finale.

These sophomores will have a hand in whether Immaculata can salvage its season. It’s quite a load to carry on their shoulders, but they seem ready for the challenge.

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