AMSTERDAM – A torn ACL late last season couldn’t keep Amsterdam High School’s Jackie Stanavich from achieving one of her dreams.
On Thursday, with a gym filled with family members, teammates and administrators, the senior girls’ basketball standout signed her National Letter of Intent, committing to Division II Mercy College.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been dreaming about playing college basketball,” she said. “I think that’s any athletes dream, to play at the next level.”
Stanavich tore the ACL in her left knee late last season. Not only did the then-junior lose the opportunity to help the Rams down the regular-season stretch and subsequent Section II tournament, but she learned a difficult lesson as interest from colleges began to wane.
“It fell off quite drastically which was difficult for me to deal with, knowing what I could have been if my injury never happened,” Stanavich said. “It’s a learning experience. It still is, and it will be for the rest of my life.”
Mercy College had the 5-foot-9 Stanavich on its radar after a 2019 showcase in Queens that took place before her February injury. It was only a clerical delay that kept Mavericks coach Scott Lagas from making the offer before this year.
“They had Jackie down on their list and they copied the wrong phone number,” Amsterdam girls’ basketball coach Eric Duemler said. “When I reached out a few months ago, he couldn’t believe that she was still available. He called me right away and he brought [the injury] up right away, and said, ‘I know about the injury, I don’t even care.’ He said, ‘I’ve had girls have [torn] ACLs and come back stronger.’ He wanted to know about her character and all the other things that she excels at.”
Mercy College’s interest impressed Stanavich.
“That meant the world to me,” she said. “A lot of coaches thought that was going to be career-ending for me. I knew personally that wasn’t going to be the case. When I found a coach that knew I was going to be better than [before] my injury, that really meant a lot to me. I knew that was the place to be.”
Stanavich impressed the Mercy College coaching staff on and off the court during last year’s showcase.
“They liked my versatility and what I was able to do when I was on the floor,” she said. “They liked the way I respected my coach when he pulled me aside and was talking to me. I was looking him in the eyes, and I was truly trying to learn from everything he was saying, and they really liked that.”
After her injury, Stanavich became an unofficial assistant coach for Amsterdam, always communicating with her teammates on the court and on the bench. It also helped her cope with the injury and impending rehabilitation.
“It was hard seeing her upset and knowing her dreams were changing,” Stanavich’s mother Christine said. “I kept saying, ‘Stay focused on the future Jacqueline. You have this. I know you’ll make it, you’ll continue to persevere.’
“At the beginning of the rehab she wasn’t sure. But, as she progressed, she just started seeing herself get better and she kept playing. She focused on her shot, her dribbling, other things that she could do.”
Stanavich was all smiles as she signed her NLI form Thursday seated between her parents Tom and Christine. It was after she hugged her mom that she became emotional.
“You see her play, she’s tough, but she has a soft inside,” mom Christine said. “All I said was, ‘I’m proud of you and you know how much I love you.’ I didn’t know until she came off my shoulder that she was in tears, and I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’
“But I had to tell her. I wasn’t going to leave that opportunity undone.”