While the majority of college athletes become professionals in fields other than sports, Cazenovia High School alumna Heather Stec is one of the few exceptions.
After graduating from Siena College in 2009, Stec played professional basketball in Europe, leading the Horsholm 79ers to the 2010 Dameligaen Championship.
Last year she returned to the United States to act as assistant coach for the Cazenovia College womens basketball team.
“I worked with the post players, developing their skills down on the low block. I did some scouting, and was there for all practices and games to support the girls,” Stec said. “Playing abroad was great, but different. When you’re overseas, you learn to really appreciate everything you have in America. I remember getting off the plane and just wanting to kiss the ground … It’s nice being back in [Cazenovia].”
Before her professional career, Stec was no stranger to athletic success. In her senior year of high school, the six-foot-two-inch forward helped lead the Cazenovia Lakers to the 2004 Section III finals.
Nursing a stress-fracture in her knee, Stec red-shirted for her first year at Siena, joining the Saints starting lineup in 2006. While playing at Siena, she was named to the All-MAAC Third Team, and logged 792 points and 682 rebounds in 100 career games. Stec is currently tied for the 11th spot on the school’s all-time rebounding list. Amid her busy athletic schedule, she double majored in biology and psychology
Upon graduation in 2009, Stec was drafted to the 79ers in Denmark, where she was named the Player of the Year, Forward of the Year and Import Player of the Year. After clinching the national Dameligaen Championship, Stec was traded to the STOL-Grasshoppers in Katwijk, Holland. During the 2010-11 season she averaged 21.4 points per game and a free-throw percentage of 78.8.
Stec said she was happy to return back to America, although the two years she spent playing professional basketball in Europe granted her priceless memories and close friends. “In Denmark, I loved my teammates. It couldn’t have been a better experience. Even when I was in Holland, I went back to Denmark to visit the team,” she said. “They accepted me so quickly, it wasn’t an issue at all. I think the best parts about being overseas were the families I got to meet and the friendships I made.”
While assisting Cazenovia College womens basketball coach Chris Comino, the Wildcats finished the season 5-19. Stec’s advice helped junior Megan McDermot get to the basket more often, eventually passing the 1,000-point-mark for her career.
Stec also helped out with coaching responsibilities at Cazenovia Middle School this past year, assisting Coach Rob Axelson and Coach Mark Evans with the seventh and eighth grade girls basketball teams.
But not just the college and middle school athletes have benefitted from Stec’s pointers. Her younger sister Ashley, who currently plays basketball for Manhattan, helped lead the Cazenovia Lakers to a first-ever appearance in the statewide final four. Stec’s other siblings have also experienced success – her younger sister April played lacrosse at Le Moyne College and her younger brother Keith is currently enrolled at Cornell University.
Stec was recently accepted to Springfield College’s graduate program, where she will look to gain a master’s degree in psychology with a concentration in athletic counseling. While on the college’s campus in Massachusetts, she will act as a graduate assistant for the womens basketball team, splitting her time between studying and coaching.
Until classes start in the fall, Stec said she looks forward to spending time with her family and enjoying being back in familiar surroundings.
Pierce Smith is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at 434-8889 ext. 338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.