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Prep girls basketball: Grand Rapids' Hamlings looking forward to final tourney together

Photo courtesy of Kris Hamling Grand Rapids coach Kris Hamling (left) and her daughter, Heaven, a senior guard, lead the Thunderhawks into the Class AAA girls basketball state tournament today against Holy Angels Academy.

Heaven Hamling grew up playing catch inside the family home in Grand Rapids with her father, Robert.

Two hands was just too easy, so they tossed the tennis ball back and forth one-handed.

“My mom would get mad and yell at us thinking we were going to break something, but it worked out to my advantage,” Heaven Hamling said.

More than 2,700 varsity basketball points later, it sure has. Hamling, a senior guard, will lead Grand Rapids (21-7) into its Class AAA state quarterfinal game against third-seeded Holy Angels Academy (25-4) at 4 p.m. today at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

Grand Rapids is playing in its third straight state tournament.

“It’s a great advantage,” Hamling said. “We have so much more confidence going into this first game than the previous years. The cards are in our hands, and we feel like we’ll be able to handle anything they throw at us.”

Hamling is the daughter of Grand Rapids girls basketball coach Kris Hamling, who played for Grand Rapids and Itasca Community College before getting into coaching. The younger Hamling was forever shooting or dribbling around the house, and if she saw someone do a trick move in a college or NBA game, she headed right outside to try it herself.

While Heaven Hamling was also one of the area’s better tennis players, basketball is her game. Her mother says she has been in every gym in the Northland. All those games playing catch with her dad helped hone her hand-eye coordination, to the point where she has surprised the boys by her ability to catch a football with one hand.

Hamling, Grand Rapids’ all-time scoring leader, is averaging 22.9 points per game while making 101 of her 229 3-point attempts, good for 44 percent. And you don’t want to foul her as she knocks down 78 percent of her free throws.

Hamling has the green light to shoot, attempting 8.2 3s per game, and her shooting range is tough to guard. She is used to opponents defending her about 25 feet from the basket, near the white volleyball line.

“I kind of feel like the white line would be my range,” Hamling said. “Usually in a game I would never shoot from the white line, but I can, but usually I like to be at least one step in. I usually don’t get many shots from the 3-point line, so if it’s wide open, I’m going to take it.”

Hamling has developed as a point guard, averaging just over four assists and steals per game this season. She is projected as a combo guard at the college level, where she’ll play at Stephen F. Austin State University, an NCAA Division I school in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Hamling first came on Stephen F. Austin’s recruiting radar through Southwest Minnesota State coach Tom Webb, who is friends with Stephen F. Austin coach Mark Kellogg.

The Ladyjacks (25-6) open play in the Women’s NIT on Friday. Hamling visited the campus in August and was sold.

“They made me feel like I was home when I was down there,” Hamling said. “They showed me everything that I could ever want. The facilities were great, everything they had just amazed me. Once I got there, I just knew. I could see myself playing there.”

Nacogdoches is 1,200 miles straight south of Grand Rapids.

“It’ll be sad,” Hamling said. “It’ll be tough not to see my family everyday, but I think it’ll make me better. I’ll be on my own, kind of fending for myself, and that’ll make me a better all-around person.”

Mom is trying not to think about it but said next year is always in the back of her mind. Kris Hamling is the only varsity coach Heaven has ever known.

Heaven joined the varsity in eighth grade and was starting by the time she was a freshman. Her younger sister, Taryn, is an up-and-coming seventh grader who is already on varsity.

“It’s been a phenomenal season,” Kris Hamling said. “Every year gets better and better, and for Heaven to go to the state tournament her senior year makes it a special trip for us. And for her to be able to spend it with such wonderful teammates, it’s just a blessing for her.”

Kris Hamling will stay busy coaching next year but will find time to visit her older daughter. The Ladyjacks will play in South Dakota next season, making for an easier drive for Hamling’s parents, and there could be a trip or two planned to Texas, which would be a nice break from the Minnesota winter.

Heaven Hamling said it was 100 degrees in Nacogdoches when she visited in August, but she didn’t mind.

“I love the heat,” Hamling said, laughing. “It’s too cold here.”

Bank shots

Mesabi East (24-6) opens play against second-seeded Maranatha Christian Academy (26-4) in the Class AA quarterfinals at 6 p.m. today at Williams Arena.

It marks the the third state tournament for Mesabi East, with the others being in 1991 and 1998 (Biwabik made an appearance in 1985).

“It’s exciting,” Mesabi East coach Chris Whiting said. “It’s a big deal in small towns. We’ll bring the town down for the state tournament.”

While its been a while for the Giants, Mountain Iron-Buhl returns for its eighth straight tournament appearance. The second-seeded Rangers (28-2) play Stephen-Argyle (27-3) at 3 p.m. Thursday at Williams Arena.

MIB finished as runner-up in 2012 and again last season but is still seeking its first state title.

“I think we have the capability of competing with anybody in the state,” Rangers coach Jeff Buffetta said. “It’s just that everyone is good when you get down there, so you have to play well.”

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