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High School Girls Basketball: Immaculata welcomes state bid after missing out last year

RayAnn Call is one of three players who were on the last Immaculata team at states. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)
Andrea Drabik received the call that Immaculata earned a bid to this week’s state independent schools tournament in New York City Friday (Feb. 22) before her Bears took the court on Senior Night for their regular season finale.

The team’s head coach and school’s athletics director could hardly hold back her excitement but decided until afterward to alert her team of the good news. Not only had the Bears extended their win streak to eight games at the end of a 77-44 victory over Nichols, but they were also greeted after the contest with more reason to cheer.

Immaculata received the number three seed in its 12-team NYSAIS bracket and after an opening round bye, begins quarterfinal play on Thursday (Feb. 28) against the winner of Holy Child and Calhoun.

“I couldn’t be more excited for the girls, the school, the parents and the entire community here,” said Drabik, whose team began the bus ride downstate on Feb. 27. “The kids have worked very hard to get here. I think we have something special here. It will be nice to see us be able to match up against some excellent New York City teams who always seem to have a few D-I or D-II college level players.”

It was deserved feat after Immaculata finished an impressive 18-4 regular season. Also, in a way, it was at least a year in the making after the disappointment of missing out on a berth to the tournament in 2011-12. Only three players on the team — Taylor Heinold, Kathryn Halloran and RayAnn Call, remain from the last team to qualify for states.

But the excitement felt by Drabik and her players would last only so long, once the daunting task of preparing for what they’ll see downstate began to dawn on them.

“The last part of the season was stressful because we knew every win would count,” said Drabik, whose team delivered some big victories, including two over large school NFL teams. “Once I found out, I had a real sense of elation but then it started to set in that we had to prepare and go back to the drawing board and look up information on our opponents. I was so excited but then reality set in.”

A reality to this Immaculata run has been the huge contributions from Division II-bound guard Taylor Heinold, who’s been pumping in 30 points-plus for most of the team’s winning streak. Now with more than 1,300 career points, she is the school’s all-time leading scorer.

The lanky guard, who can get to the net and demonstrates the ability to take over a game, has led a group Drabik feels is jelling at the right time.

Big contributions have also come from another Heinold, Taylor’s freshman sister Jordan, who has provided the team double-doubles with regularity. She has also formed a nice connection with senior forward Bailey Gawley, Drabik noted.

Among the others with experience playing at the state level, Halloran, a senior guard/forward has added physicality as a defender and contributed offensively, while Call, the team’s junior point guard, has gotten good at handling the pressure that opponents have been trying to apply to the Bears to slow them down.

“Being able to handle pressure is going to really come into play in New York City with the pressure that we’re probably going to see,” Drabik noted.

If Immaculata gets by its opening tournament game, it will play in the semifinals on Friday at 5 p.m. The winners have a day off Saturday, before the final on Sunday.

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