SHERWOOD, Ore. (BVM) – In a few months, Ava Heiden will begin playing with one of the top women’s college basketball programs in the country. Her journey to becoming one of the latest top recruits to join the Iowa Hawkeyes hasn’t always been easy, but there have been a lot of special moments along the way.
When Heiden first began playing basketball at 5 years old as she was coached by her dad at the local YMCA, she didn’t think it was a sport that would be in her future.
“I did not like it at all,” Heiden said. “I actually wanted to quit the first year.”
However, Heiden’s mom Kelly encouraged her to stick things out and keep playing the sport for a few more years. It was the right decision as the 6-foot-4 standout grew a love for basketball while also possessing plenty of talent while out on the floor.
Ava’s mom is a big reason her basketball career took off, but she has meant much more on and off the court through the years. Kelly is a former softball star at Michigan who earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors with the Wolverines in 1993. Although Ava plays a different sport, she has always looked up to the mindset her mom has.
“My mom is a very strong lady who has done a lot of things in her life and has had a lot of experiences,” Ava said. “I hope to follow in those footsteps.
“Mindset is what I’ve taken away from her. She was always very cool, calm and collected on the field and didn’t let anything rile her. I try to have that mindset going into games.”
Ava had some role models on the court growing up as well, like former Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu and continued to compete locally with Sherwood’s youth team until seventh grade. That’s when Ava joined coach Angie Sun with Northwest Select, a club program that changed her basketball career.
“I really enjoyed it, just the style of play and how quick it was,” Ava said. “There was a lot more talent than I was used to and it was a big shock for me going out of my bubble. I never thought I would be super, super good, but I always enjoyed the sport and I just kind of kept working at it.”
Ava put together some strong seasons playing with Northwest Select, but it was the summer after her sophomore year that was her true breakout.
🚨 ⬇️ 💪 @ava_heiden 💪 ⬇️ 🚨
6’4 C || C/O 2024 || Sherwood HS
Film Review 🎞 @SelectEventsBB “The Finale”
— James Purchin (@JamesPurchin) August 7, 2022
“That’s when I kind of realized that I could do something great with my career,” Ava said. “That’s when all the text messages and stuff like that started coming in from interested colleges. From there, it’s kind of history.”
On Oct. 23, 2022, the No. 40 recruit in the Class of 2024 officially committed to the Hawkeyes. Although she had interest from a lot of schools and also considered programs like Michigan, Utah, and Oregon State, there was just something that felt like home in Iowa.
— Ava Heiden (@ava_heiden) October 23, 2022
“Iowa felt like a family from the second that I had my first call with them,” Ava said. “I knew that they would treat me right and just take care of me as a person and grow who I am off the court, not just on the court. A lot of other schools had that, but Iowa, they just went above and beyond.”
Ava had a pretty good idea that the Hawkeyes were a frontrunner in her recruiting process as soon as she started talking to them. When she took her official visit there a couple of months before her commitment and officially met Lisa Bluder and Jan Jensen, she knew Iowa City would be her new home.
“When I went there and talked to Coach Bluder and Coach Jensen, I was like, ‘this is it,’” Ava said. “They were just so genuine and they cared about me, academics, and especially basketball. It checked all the boxes.”
Ava has the type of talent to keep Iowa’s winning ways going for years to come between her intimidating, shot-blocking presence on defense and her constantly developing offensive skill set as both a facilitator and a scorer. That has been proven during a strong, yet adversity-filled career at Sherwood High School.
The 6-foot-4 standout’s freshman year of high school basketball was limited to just a couple of spring contests due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she finally had a more normalized season as a sophomore when she earned second-team all-state honors, and was named Pacific Conference player of the year and defensive player of the year as she averaged 10 points, 7.5 rebounds, two steals and 1.5 blocks.
“I just started coming out of my shell, trying some new things,” Ava said about her sophomore season.
Ava’s junior season started strong as well as she was averaging around 17 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocks through the early part of the year. However, an ankle injury ultimately forced her to miss a majority of the season. She also missed the start of her senior year due to a knee injury. While it was tough to sit out parts of both campaigns, Ava gained a new perspective on the game.
“I feel like each of those events has kind of taught me a lesson,” Ava said. “Some more leadership skills and how to help my team when I’m not on the court, which I think has actually helped me a lot to round me out as a player.
“I was definitely pretty motivated coming out of that. I didn’t have a real big injury like that before … I think it was really beneficial for me, just to kind of look at it almost from more of a coach’s perspective. That was pretty cool for me to learn because that kind of translates to how I play now.”
Now that she’s back on the court, Ava and the Bowmen are thriving, taking down some of the top teams in the state recently as they set their eyes on potentially reaching a state championship.
“I think we have a really good shot this year,” Ava said. ”I think that we’ve kind of faced some adversity this year but we’ve come together … I think we have all the parts needed to win.”
Ava’s continued success has also quickly turned her into a role model for younger players around the community, a role she continues to embrace.
“I’m just trying to be who I am and hopefully that inspires people to be who they are and just have fun throughout the process of their sport,” Ava said.
Being a role model is something that will continue for Ava once she’s in Iowa City. There, she’ll follow in the footsteps of one of the most significant figures in women’s basketball in recent memory: Caitlin Clark.
Ava was already able to form a relationship with some current Iowa players on her visit including Clark, who reminded Ava of someone very close to her.
Just gonna leave this here… pic.twitter.com/ItuWwM6ksJ
— Northwest Select (@NWSelect) April 1, 2023
“On my first visit with Caitlin and those guys, she actually reminded me a lot of my younger sister,” Ava said. “That made it feel even more at home.”
Ava will also feel more at home as she makes the journey to the Midwest as she has family in both Iowa and Michigan. However, being from Oregon will allow the Sherwood senior to make history, as she will become the first women’s basketball player from the Beaver State to suit up for the Hawkeyes’ women’s basketball program.
“I think they are for sure reaching out and have much more of a pull because of Caitlin,” Ava said. “I hope I can make a name for Oregon sports and bring some attention to the West Coast. I never would have thought that I was the only person from Oregon, but it’s a cool little fun fact that I have now in my pocket.”
Beyond her time at Iowa, Ava isn’t quite sure what her future will hold. Perhaps it will be an opportunity to play in the WNBA or overseas, or maybe she will pursue a professional career in another field. But for now, the talented four-star commit is solely focused on continuing what Iowa has built in recent years, and leaving the program in an even better spot once all is said and done.
“I definitely think that we have a strong incoming class and a lot of great upperclassmen to learn from too,” Ava said. “I think we have a chance of keeping that Iowa brand strong.
“I just want to be a good person, a good basketball player and leave it better than I found it.”