UAlbany women’s basketball team’s first 3 games called off; Heeps eligible to play

Grace Heeps is shown during a preseason UAlbany women's basketball practice earlier this year. (Gazette file photo)
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Grace Heeps is shown during a preseason UAlbany women's basketball practice earlier this year. (Gazette file photo)

ALBANY — With no confirmed date yet for when UAlbany’s basketball teams are able to return to practice, head coach Colleen Mullen’s women’s program won’t play any of its first three games as previously scheduled.

The university’s athletic department made that announcement Monday afternoon, a decision that mirrors last Thursday’s decision to call off the men’s basketball program’s first three games. For the UAlbany women’s team, the three-game stretch that was wiped out includes its Dec. 2 game against Siena.

“We’ve opted to postpone our first games so we can start working on rescheduling dates,” Mullen said in a phone interview.

Mullen’s team hasn’t practiced since Nov. 9 because of restrictions associated with the university’s move to remote learning for the remainder of the fall semester due to concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Great Danes were scheduled to play Nov. 29 against Central Connecticut, Dec. 2 against Siena and Dec. 5 against Marist to start their season.

“Our top priority right now is [rescheduling] Siena because they’re so close,” said Mullen, who added keeping Marist on the Great Danes’ schedule is also a priority.

Siena head coach Ali Jaques, whose team is also currently not practicing because of a pandemic-related pause, confirmed the two programs based in Albany County are trying to find a way to keep their rivalry game.

“We’re working on another date,” Jaques said in a phone interview.

The first game now on UAlbany’s schedule for the 2020-21 season is a Dec. 9 matchup at Hofstra.

Division I teams are allowed to play games as early as Wednesday.

ONE IN, ONE OUT

Mullen said UAlbany found out Monday that sophomore Grace Heeps, a transfer from UMass who is from East Greenbush, will be eligible to play during the 2020-21 season after successfully receiving an NCAA transfer waiver.

Meanwhile, Mullen said the program learned Friday that redshirt senior Khepera Stokes will miss the season because of a hip injury that will require surgery. Stokes started all 30 games last season for UAlbany, and averaged five points per game. Mullen said Stokes, who also was battling a foot injury during the preseason, will remain with the program during the upcoming season.

“She’s still our captain,” Mullen said of the 5-foot-6 guard from Baltimore.

With Stokes out and fellow guard Morgan Haney (ACL) expected to miss all of the 2020-21 season, gaining Heeps was critical for the Great Danes.

“She’s a terrific floor leader. She’s someone that will give us a ton of minutes at guard,” Mullen said of Heeps, who played at Columbia High School before transferring to Northfield Mount Hermon High School. “She’s someone who has a terrific basketball IQ and makes everyone around her better.”

Previously, UAlbany received an NCAA transfer waiver for Ellen Hahne, a Wake Forest transfer. Mullen said Fatima Lee, a transfer from Providence, will not gain a waiver and will sit out the 2020-21 season.

SHIFTING ROLES

The Siena women’s basketball program announced Monday that Meghan Donohue is moving from serving as its director of basketball operations to being an assistant coach, while Sunny Vadopalaite-Witt — previously an assistant coach — will now serve as the program’s director of on-campus recruiting and operations.

“I’m really enthusiastic with the shifting of some responsibilities within our staff,” Jaques said in a press release issued through Siena’s athletic department. “Moving Meghan on the court to mentor our post players is great for our program. She is a tireless worker and takes great pride in making our players better. Moving Sunny into a more administrative role as our Director of On-Campus Recruiting and Operations will impact our players directly. In her time at Siena, Sunny has built great relationships across all offices on campus. She will directly mentor our athletes from an academic standpoint, and will also organize our recruiting efforts in conjunction with Admissions, Financial Aid, and Housing.”

Jaques’ program needed to pause all in-person activities last week after last practicing on Nov. 16. While the school’s men’s basketball program expects to be able to restart practicing later this week after it needed to pause several days before the women’s program took that step, Jaques said her program should be able to resume practicing at some point next week.

“Hopefully,” Jaques said, “everything goes as planned. We’re trying to make the best of it.”

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, College Sports, Sports

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