How Santa Clara’s Tess Heal became star during COVID downtime

How Santa Clara’s Tess Heal became star during COVID downtime

SAN FRANCISCO — Twenty-two seconds after the West Coast Conference’s top rookie missed a wide-open layup, she fouled, walked to the bench, and dropped into her chair .

Tess Heal was lucky enough to bring the Santa Clara University women’s basketball team within three points of the University of San Francisco, the team that ended SCU’s season there. a year ago.

But Heal’s layup attempt missed and the Broncos lost. The Dons ultimately held on for a 74-66 win that dropped SCU to sixth place.

Two days later, the WCC issued a press release.

“Santa Clara’s Tess Heal earned her eighth UCU WCC Freshman of the Week honor after beating all other WCC freshmen during the week,” the statement read.

Even on a bad week, Heal continues to rack up the accolades.

His eight Freshman of the Week awards are the second in WCC history. Her 16-point-per-game average heading into Thursday’s game against No. 17 Gonzaga puts her on pace for a 500-point season that would be one of the top 10 in school history.

With three more seasons like this, Heal will become the first 2,000-point scorer the program has ever seen, eclipsing the record of 1,798 held by Melissa King.

“People tell me, ‘She’s a good player,'” Broncos associate head coach Michael Floyd said. “But she is still in first grade. She is still learning. We know it will improve.


USF coach Molly Goodenbour remembers recruiting Heal, but ultimately going in a different direction.

“We backed away from her,” said Goodenbour, who celebrated her 101st career win on Saturday, “and we wish we hadn’t.”

It’s hard to fault Goodenbour; recruiting at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was tricky. This forced coaches to rely on established relationships with other coaches around the world. And to make snap judgments based on some YouTube videos.

“I didn’t like Zoom,” Floyd said, “but I fell in love with Zooming as far as Tess Heal was concerned, having the chance to develop that relationship with her and her parents. it was a normal phone call.

Rumor has long been circulating in Australia about Heal’s talent, especially given his surname.

Santa Clara guard Tess Heal dribbles past Stanford’s Haley Jones on Nov. 30, 2022. (Courtesy Santa Clara University)

His uncle, Shane, played briefly in the NBA and coached professionally in Australia for years. He was in charge of the Sydney Flames squad which included his daughter – and Tess’ cousin – Shyla, a former first-round pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft.

But Shane and Shyla have been away from the Flames in recent weeks and Shyla joined a new club, Townsville Fire, on Wednesday. Reports from Sydney indicate there is an ongoing investigation, with Shane Heal telling on Sunday: “I’m sure at some point it will come out but, right now, you know I can’t. say nothing.

The uncertain nature of their absence should not affect Tess Heal, who said she respects her uncle and cousin’s legacy, but added: “We don’t have much to do with them. We are not close. We don’t talk often. Sometimes I connect by name, which is understandable. But I try to create my own path. In the most pleasant way possible.

Although the name Heal might have made her stand out, Tess had previously struggled to break into the national youth teams in Australia.

“Every year I was going to tryout and I couldn’t make it,” Heal said. “It was on the to-do list for a long time.”

What changed?

The pandemic, which kept his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, in lockdown for 262 days, more than any other major city in the world, according to Reuters.

“So I didn’t play competitive basketball for a year,” Heal said. “I was lucky because my dad (Travis Heal) owns a bunch of paintball facilities that have basketball courts. I was going to work with him every day and then doing my online school at his office and then I would come down and shoot a machine or bounce him every day.I was very lucky to have access to a facility where a lot of kids didn’t have…

“I guess I was just focused on the bigger goal. I wanted to come to college and I wanted to be on my national team, and I wanted to get a scholarship. Playing basketball is a big part of who I am and something I love doing. I knew I had to keep working and it would work out eventually.

The work paid off. After missing the cut for years, Heal looked like a different player when she showed up for the Australia U18 team’s trials last summer.

Australian coach David Herbert selected her for the Asian Women’s U18 Championship in India last fall. He made her backup playmaker, asked her to become more than a goalscorer and watched her blossom.

“His ferocity comes through,” Herbert said. “You will see it in his games. She doesn’t back down from anyone. »

Australia won the tournament, earning a spot at the U19 Women’s World Cup in Spain later this year.


There are no meat pies or Vegemite (a popular Aussie spread) on the Santa Clara campus, but with four Aussies on the women’s basketball team, Heal has often felt right at home .

The Broncos have recruited Australians for the seven years since head coach Bill Carr took over. They have four Australians on the roster: Heal, junior Lara Edmanson and two transfers, junior Olivia Pollerd and junior Jayde Cadee.

“They’re all from Melbourne,” Carr said. “I don’t know how it happened.”

Australians like to come to California for college because “it’s on the west coast, closer to home, one of the safest places in America,” Heal said.

Edmanson and Heal both started Saturday’s game while Pollerd and Cadee came off the bench.

Watching Heal, Edmanson and Pollerd perform together is like watching a well-rehearsed dance recital. Heal carries the ball on the floor and pushes through traffic while Pollerd and Edmanson take care of business in the paint.

“The different elements, the pieces of the puzzle, it all fits together,” Pollerd said. “We all have faith in each other and that inspires faith in (Heal). She therefore feels capable of making these pieces.

Heal’s ability to drive and finish is his bread and butter. Her signature move is a spin, which she can perform to shake off defenders to her right and left.

Q4, 1h25 | #Broncos 72, @WavesHoops 72

Tess Heal spins into the lane and puts it in to tie the game at 7️⃣2️⃣-everything! #StampedTogether | #SCUBroncos

— Santa Clara Women’s Basketball (@Santaclarawbb) December 17, 2022

“She’s already one of the best players in the league,” said Goodenbour, the seventh-year USF coach. “She’s a very good offensive player, very savvy. It really has a nice length for a guard. She has the ability to create her own shot from the dribble. She’s a great finisher, left hand, right hand, that little 6-8 foot jump shot that seems like an easy shot but isn’t easy to do consistently, she’s phenomenal at the finish.

“After taking off in the car, she keeps her pivot foot and is still in balance. She’s a really tough match.

Heal’s 16 points per game ranks sixth among all Division I freshmen, and that’s despite shooting just 24 percent from 3-point range.

“As she develops her 3-point shot, that’s her only weakness as a rookie,” Goodenbour said. “She can hit them but she’s much more comfortable putting the ball on the ground.”

At SCU, they don’t doubt Heal’s ability to improve.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Floyd said, “and she’s got an amazing work ethic. That’s something.”

At 13-10 (4-6 in conference), the Broncos have eight games left before the WCC tournament, which begins March 2 in Las Vegas.

Heal has a shot at breaking the WCC record for freshman of the week honors, held by San Francisco’s Ioanna Krimili, who won it 11 times during the 2020-21 season.

“My goals for this team and for this season are not personal goals, it’s just to get Santa Clara as far as possible,” Heal said.

And while Herbert was curious to see how Heal would fare against Division I competition in the United States, his dominance in Santa Clara so far has shown him something.

He intends to invite him to the U19 World Cup tryout camp in Australia in May.

“You know she can compete with the best guards in America,” Herbert said.

Asked about Heal’s name, he replied, “It’s a well-known name, but I really think she’s forging her own path. She makes a statement. Tess Heal’s name will appear. Not just healing. It is important to mention it.

Santa Clara guard Tess Heal battles a Lincoln University (Oakland) defender in a game Dec. 2, 2022. (Courtesy Santa Clara University)

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