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SportsHigh SchoolGirls Basketball

Freshman Heimbauer has size, spirit to lead No. 2-seed Massapequa

Gabriella Heimbauer #23 of Massapequa scores from beneath

Gabriella Heimbauer #23 of Massapequa scores from beneath the hoop during a Nassau County Conference AA-I varsity girls' basketball game against Syosset at Massapequa High School on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. Massapequa won by a score of 60-33. Photo Credit: James Escher

Gabriella Heimbauer is proving that a little versatility goes a long way.

At 6-3, the freshman standout has provided the Massapequa girls basketball team with a steady presence, leading the team by scoring 13.9 points per game. But her value doesn’t just come from her height.

Heimbauer first played varsity in seventh grade thanks to an already polished stable of post moves and touch around the basket. First-year coach Billy Herr called her a leader despite being just 14 years old.

“I was very impressed at not only how she carries herself, but how seamlessly she ingrained herself into the makeup of this team,” he said. “She’s the veteran player even though she’s in the ninth grade.”

Still, Heimbauer prefers to lead quietly by example. She speaks humbly with a soft tone, even though her talent suggests otherwise.

“I’m like a silent leader,” she said. “It’s more the juniors and seniors who fill that [vocal] role.”

A versatile skill set makes Heimbauer one of Nassau’s top rising stars. Her skills in the paint are her obvious strength, but Heimbauer also is an adept ballhandler who sees the floor well and runs the offense.

She has a consistent mid-range jumper that she can stretch out to the perimeter, even if Massapequa’s offense operates best when she’s in the post.

Herr said Heimbauer even excels in the open court, calling her “probably our best Euro-stepper.”

Defensively, she’s a shot-blocker and rebounder because of her ability to sky above opposing players. When she puts her mind to being aggressive, there are few players who can dominate her near the basket. She’s also a capable perimeter defender.

“I think I’m more of a finesse player and I’ve been trying to work on being more physical,” she said, calling her aggressiveness the trait she most needs to work on.

Even if there still are strides to be made, there’s enough raw talent for others to take notice. ESPN HoopGurlz recognized Heimbauer as one of the top recruits in the nation at her age, calling her “an elite post prospect in the class of 2020.”

Heimbauer stepped into a starting role this season after Melanie Hingher, a member of Newsday’s All-Long Island first team last season, graduated. Even as a first-time starter, Heimbauer excelled and led the Chiefs to an 11-2 start.

But Heimbauer sprained her left ankle early in the Jan. 20 loss to Freeport, forcing her to miss the next four games. Including the Freeport game, the Chiefs were 2-3 in her absence.

She returned Feb. 11 against Syosset with the No. 2 playoff seed in Nassau AA and a bye on the line. She was limited, scoring nine points, but the Chiefs outlasted Syosset, 40-34.

The playoffs were never in question, but the No. 2 seed puts Massapequa in better position to advance through the postseason.

“I think we have a really good chance at making a playoff run this year,” she said. “I think we have a lot of skill all-around on the team. We have good shooters and a good inside game.”

Massapequa will host a quarterfinal on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. against No. 7 Hicksville with county title aspirations on the line. With Heimbauer healthy, the Chiefs could make a surprising push.

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