2021 All-Blade girls basketball player of the year: Grace VanSlooten, Notre Dame

Steve Junga, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·5 min read

Mar. 21—If there were a Mount Rushmore for the faces of Toledo's best all-time high school girls basketball players, there are a handful of worthy candidates.

Natasha Howard. Zia Cooke. Frani Washington. Kamesha Hairston. Ericka Haney.

Although her prep career still has one year remaining at Notre Dame Academy, it appears another spot in this hypothetical may eventually go to 6-foot-2 Eagles junior All-Ohioan Grace VanSlooten.

In three seasons as a starter, VanSlooten has played a key role in getting Notre Dame to the Division I state final all three years.

She was named second team All-Ohio as a freshman in 2019, was elevated to first team All-Ohio last year, and this year is a candidate for Ohio's Ms. Basketball award. The All-Ohio teams will be chosen later this month.

And, for the second straight season, VanSlooten is the All-Blade player of the year.

"She stands out to me for a couple different reasons," said Notre Dame coach Travis Galloway. "No. 1, she's 6-foot-2 with guard skills. We've had very talented post players that could handle the ball in the open floor, but maybe not shoot pull-up jumpers like she can.

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"And, we've had guards who could handle the ball and penetrate and play well, but they weren't 6-foot-2. That combination alone separates her in a lot of ways. The other thing is just her motor. She plays 100 miles an hour all the time, and her ability to rebound and grab loose balls and get deflections and steals and blocked shots. It's a very unique combination for somebody with that size."

VanSlooten is ranked as Ohio's No. 2 player in the Class of 2022, and the No. 16 junior nationally, in ESPN's ratings, and her list of future possible college choices reads like a who's-who of NCAA powers.

VanSlooten has lost count, but estimates her number of Division I college scholarship offers at "around 45 or 46, maybe?"

At the moment, her top 10 choices include Michigan, North Carolina, Duke, Baylor, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, Gonzaga, Oregon and Clemson.

"Grace is a dominant player on both ends of the floor who is definitely the biggest focus of your game plan," said Northview coach Pat Sayre. "She is skilled on the rim line, and is physical, competitive and aggressive. She's a heck of a player now, and will no doubt have a great future ahead of her."

Corey Kreinbrink coached Napoleon to a Division II state title on March 13 finishing 26-1 after a 27-0 record last season. The lone loss for the Wildcats was a 58-51 setback against Notre Dame and VanSlooten early this season.

"She can be nearly impossible to stop in the open floor," Kreinbrink said, "and also has a great knack to find angles to rebound the basketball without fouling."

This season, despite Notre Dame being sidelined by three separate 14-day coronavirus quarantines, VanSlooten remained focused and determined, averaging 20.9 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.0 steals per game.

In 71 career games, she has totaled 1,094 points and 635 rebounds.

VanSlooten led the Eagles to their 10th straight Three Rivers Athletic Conference title and to their eighth state final-four berth in that span.

She and her Notre Dame teammates will look to add to both of those trends next season, and all that will remain will be for VanSlooten will be to select a university to continue her academic and athletic pursuits.

"I have mixed emotions," Galloway said, "because she's going to be a senior, and it seems like she just got here yesterday. Moving on after next year, when she commits to whatever college she's going to attend, she's going to do big things. "She's a player who you're more than likely going to see on TV quite a few times.

"As a coach, that will be a proud moment. We know she has bigger things to accomplish."

This future was put in motion by VanSlooten's past. She is the product of a sports-oriented family.

Her father, Jon, played quarterback on the Western Michigan football team, and her mother, Michelle, ran track at Michigan's Hudsonville High School.

Older sister Olivia starred in basketball at Ottawa Hills and went on to play at Division I High Point University in North Carolina. Older brother Eli, a 6-5 forward, just completed his senior season at Ottawa Hills, where he was named to the Toledo Area Athletic Conference and District 7 Coaches Association Division IV first teams.

"I started in like fourth grade mostly because my older sister played it first," VanSlooten said. "She is six years older than me. I was probably annoying, and a little bit of a pest, too. But she helped me along the way, especially with recruiting, because she had gone through it.

"And, we worked out together. I just wanted to be like her, and achieve everything that she did. Eli and I are really close, and he is super supportive. We play all the time in the driveway. It usually ends up with somebody getting mad, though. That is one of the ways he's helped me, besides being supportive and cheering me on. My family does a great job of keeping me grounded."

Their support enabled Grace to develop into a superb player with a top-level passion for the game.

"Her desire to be great in shown on a daily basis," Galloway said. "At every practice, she goes as hard as she can, and in every game, she goes as hard as possible.

"She's a very humble kid who knows she's talented, but also knows she has a lot of room to grow still. She wants to be great. You don't often get kids with that kind of desire. A lot of them feel they've already arrived, but she doesn't have that mindset at all."

Based on the recruiting attention she receives, college basketball is on the horizon for sure for VanSlooten. But, does she dream of playing the game beyond that in the WNBA?

"Yes, definitely," VanSlooten said. "I just have to continue to work hard and keep my drive, and stay motivated."