May 8—Three-time All-Ohio girls basketball standout Grace VanSlooten of Notre Dame Academy will transfer to the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for her senior year in 2021-22.
VanSlooten, a heavily recruited 6-foot-2 forward, has helped the Eagles reach the Division I state semifinals the past three years. She was named The Blade's player of the year in 2020 and 2021, receiving first team All-Ohio honors in both of those years after being named to the All-Ohio second team as a freshman.
"A lot of thought went into the decision, and a lot of back and forth with my family trying to decide what was best for me," VanSlooten said. "The opportunity was amazing and just seemed like one I shouldn't pass up.
"It had absolutely nothing to do with Notre Dame, and I've loved my time there. I wouldn't change my decision to go there these past three years for anything. I'm very excited to see what this next chapter will bring and to prepare myself for whatever is after high school."
IMG Academy is one of the top residential sports academies in the country. Begun as the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, its athletics program has grown to include football, baseball, basketball, golf, lacrosse, soccer, and track and field.
The news of VanSlooten's decision to transfer was met with pride and a tinge of sadness from her Notre Dame coach, Travis Galloway.
"Obviously, we're very excited for Grace and her opportunity to go to IMG," Galloway said. "She's going to be greatly missed at Notre Dame. "Selfishly, I'd like to watch her play one more year with us, but I also understand that when an opportunity presents itself, it's a parent's job to do what's best for their kid.
"That's the decision they made, and the Notre Dame basketball program and community totally supports their decision. Some things you can't pass up."
VanSlooten is rated as the No. 16 player in the nation for the Class of 2022 and No. 2 from Ohio by ESPN.
This past 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.
She led the Eagles to their 10th straight Three Rivers Athletic Conference title and to their eighth state final-four berth in that span.
In 71 career games at Notre Dame, she totaled 1,094 points and 635 rebounds. This season, she was a finalist for Ohio's Ms. Basketball award.
VanSlooten has more than 50 Division I college scholarship offers, including from some of the nation's top women's programs. Three weeks ago, she told The Blade that her top 10 choices consists of national runner-up Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, Clemson, Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, and UCLA.
Galloway said that it is his understanding that IMG Academy, best noted for its powerhouse football and boys basketball programs, is attempting a similar upgrade in girls basketball.
"They're trying to beef up their program like the boys and become a national powerhouse," the Notre Dame coach said.
Meanwhile, IMG's gain will create a substantial void at Notre Dame, which has been a statewide power for the past decade.
"Grace has the ability to do a little bit of everything," Galloway said. "She scored, she was a great rebounder, and was a great defender. Probably the biggest void we'll have is how she led by example with her effort level every day at practice.
"She was able to pull out the best from everybody because she practiced so hard. That's will be a huge void to fill."
The Eagles will now return only one starter from this past season, current sophomore Dekota Smith. Also returning will be three top subs from 2020-21, junior Sydney Orians and sophomores Vaeh Cable and Ja'Nya Anderson.
"A lot of other players will collectively have to step up and do their best to fill that void," Galloway said. "It's not going to be one player. It's going to have to be by committee. As a coaching staff, that's going to be a challenge for us to try to pull that out of them.
This will allow our younger players to maybe progress a little faster than what they thought they might have to, so it's an opportunity for them to take on that challenge. We're excited to have players who want to come in and and try to keep Notre Dame as strong as we've been. We know it's not going to be easy, but that's definitely something we're going to strive for."
First Published May 7, 2021, 5:42pm