Kate Koval (13) is fouled by West forward Mackenly Randolph,...

Kate Koval (13) is fouled by West forward Mackenly Randolph, left, during the first quarter of the McDonald's All-American girls' basketball game Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Houston. Credit: AP/Kevin M. Cox

As if being the first girls basketball team to have three girls selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game wasn’t enough of an impressive feat by itself, all three Long Island Lutheran stars started for the East in the most prestigious all-star game in high school sports on Tuesday night.

LuHi's Kate Koval, Syla Swords and Kayleigh Heckel all started for the East and played key roles as the East defeated the West, 98-74, in the girls basketball McDonald’s All-American Game Tuesday night at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Swords had 12 points, Heckel had nine points and Koval added eight points as teammates for the East.

Along with the three girls, VJ Edgecombe, a 6-5 guard for the LuHi boys team from the Bahamas committed to Baylor, played in the boys game. He started for the West and scored nine points in an 88-86 loss to the East. 

LuHi became the first girls program in the game’s 22-year history to have three players from the same team play in the game.

Koval, a 6-5 center from Ukraine committed to Notre Dame, Swords, a 6-foot guard from Canada committed to Michigan, and Heckel, a 5-9 guard from Port Chester, New York committed to USC, lived their dreams on Tuesday night. The girls were in practice when the rosters were announced in January and it was a special moment when they found out together all three girls made it.

“We all cried together and it was just a really cool moment to know we were all going to be in this game together,” said Heckel when the four received their jerseys in early March.

Koval and Swords as international players knew of the McDonald’s All-American Game but couldn’t have imagined actually playing in it one day.

“Especially growing up in Canada, it wasn’t really on my radar to be a McDonald’s All-American,” Swords said. “But to see the jersey and to see the McDonald’s logo, it’s pretty cool.”

Edgecombe said he’s watched every McDonald’s All-American Game and dreamed of playing in it one day.

“You work hard for this moment and it’s every kid in the country’s dream to be a McDonald’s All-American,” Edgecombe said. “Just being selected, 48 players including the girls, it means a lot and I’ve worked hard for it to be noticed amongst the best players in the country.”

But this isn’t the end of the road for any of the LuHi players. Both the Crusaders boys and girls teams play in the Chipotle Nationals this weekend, the 15th annual end-of-season tournament that features the best high school basketball teams in the country.

The boys are the No. 4 seed and play No. 5 Columbus (Florida) on Thursday at 4 p.m. in the quarterfinals. The girls are the No. 1 seed and have a bye into the semifinals and open on Friday at 12:30 p.m. The boys enter at 21-4 overall with the girls at 21-1 with their only loss coming in the championship game of the Nike Tournament of Champions.

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