While the 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament has come to an end for Church members on the BYU and University of Utah squads, the “Big Dance” continues for at least one Latter-day Saint.
Nicole Heyn, a multi-tool forward on Georgia’s Valdosta State University, is playing a key role in the Lady Blazers ongoing run through the NCAA Division II tourney. On Monday night, March 21, the Spanish Fork, Utah, product and her teammates will battle Western Washington in the national quarterfinals in Birmingham, Alabama, at 7:30 p.m. MT.
Heyn and the Lady Blazers advanced to the “Elite Eight” after defeating top-ranked Union in the NCAA Division II South Region Championship. The 5-foot-11 forward was named to the All-Region tournament team, averaging over 11 points and almost 10 rebounds during regional play.
Prior to Monday’s quarterfinals, Heyn told the Church News she is feeling all the joy synonymous with college basketball’s March Madness. No need to remind her that the Lady Blazers are just three wins away from winning a Division II national title.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “Our coaches have done a great job preparing for us… and we hope we can come out Monday, play as hard as we can and walk away the winning team.”
A huge hoops fan, Heyn admits with a laugh that she sneaks peeks at the other televised NCAA tournament games even while preparing for her own quarterfinal contest. “It’s all fun, but I’m trying to lock into my games. I know this is my moment and I don’t want to have any regrets.”
Heyn’s path to Monday’s Elite Eight has followed a circuitous route.
She was born in Colombia to parents who were both Church converts. Her father, Garbriel, was baptized in his native country. Her mother, Paula, was introduced to the Church while playing on the BYU golf team.
Despite earning several accolades at Utah’s Maple Mountain High School, Heyn was lightly recruited. So she began her college career playing junior college ball at the College of Southern Idaho before continuing on to Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas.
After earning all-conference and Lone Star Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, she transferred to Valdosta State to play one more year of college basketball as a graduate transfer and begin studying for a master’s degree in business.
At each stop, Heyn crossed paths with people who helped her feel at home — including Latter-day Saint communities in Twin Falls, Idaho; Laredo, Texas; and, now, in Valdosta, Georgia.
On her past two college teams, she has been the only member. That has presented her both challenges and opportunities. “I’ve always just tried to be a good example and stick to my values and the things I was taught at home and growing up in Primary and things like that.”
Whenever she talks to teammates or classmates about the Church, she focuses on Jesus Christ being at the center of her faith.
She also appreciates being fellowshipped by fellow Latter-day Saints wherever basketball takes her.
“I’m kind of a homebody, even though I have lived far from home,” she said. “But I’ve always known that wherever I go, I have people in the Church that I can reach out to.”
While residing in Texas, for example, she served as a Young Women leader in her Laredo ward. Now she enjoys the support of a small congregation of young single adults living in Valdosta.
“It is nice knowing that other members are just a phone call away. I’m blessed by that sense of community.”
Following the end of the 2022 NCAA basketball tournament, Heyn plans to continue her graduate studies at Valdosta State and work as a graduate assistant on the Lady Blazers basketball squad.