Ex-AAU teammates Krista Pietropola, Mallory Heinle form 'Gruesome Twosome' for Slippery Rock
With their similar builds and off-the-court friendship, Mallory Heinle and Krista Pietropola tend to get lumped together into nicknames from Slippery Rock women's basketball coach Bobby McGraw.
Some seem obvious given their importance in team rebounding — “Twin Towers,” for instance. Then there's “Gruesome Twosome,” which appears negative on the surface.
Then again ...
“Gruesome Twosome sounds kind of intimidating, so I kind of like it,” Pietropola said.
Whatever name they go by, Heinle and Pietropola enter their senior years at Slippery Rock hoping to continue their ascent from breakout junior campaigns, when they became a couple of The Rock's important contributors on the interior.
It was a new role for Heinle and Pietropola, as both mostly played guard during their high school careers at St. Joseph and Plum, respectively. The former AAU teammates at Drill for Skill were prolific scorers in high school — Pietropola remains Plum's all-time leading scorer, and Heinle won Cager Classic MVP honors as a senior.
They grew into their new roles as the season progressed. Heinle averaged a team-high 5.9 rebounds to go along with 7.8 points per game, and Pietropola contributed 6.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest.
“Some of the bodies in this league are Division I bodies, so you have to be ready to knock around with that and still keep your poise to either put the ball back up or get it up and down the floor,” Heinle said. “You've got to be tough and strong.”
It's been a gradual build for both Heinle and Pietropola. Heinle started 19 games combined in her first two seasons on Slippery Rock's campus, developing from a high school swing player into a post presence. She really began to settle in as a junior, starting 27 of 28 games and becoming a reliable scorer in addition to the team's top rebounder.
“If I can't put the ball in the hoop, I try to grab as many rebounds as I can,” she said. “I didn't have to do that much in high school just because I was so tall and the type of teams we played, I didn't have to worry about that much. But now I've found how crucial it is for me on our team to be a significant rebounder every night, and I try to take as much pride in that as I can and work hard to get those and know even if my shot's off, that's something I can do for my team.”
Pietropola took the long route to Slippery Rock, beginning her career at Division I Youngstown State, where she played 22 games as a freshman. After transferring to Slippery Rock, she became a key reserve the past two seasons and led The Rock with 43 3-pointers last season.
“I feel like last year was honestly just the first year that I finally felt comfortable somewhere,” she said. “Youngstown, obviously it didn't work out there, and then my sophomore year was my first year here. Last year I finally felt comfortable learning (my) role. It was more than just being the 3-point shooter. We're so guard-heavy here that I had to work on guarding a post and guarding a big, which I never had to do before.
“It was just getting used to a bunch of new things, and last year I finally started getting comfortable. My confidence was getting better, slowly.”
Now accustomed to life down low, Heinle and Pietropola spent the offseason attempting to get stronger for the expected wear and tear of the season. Heinle suffered a setback because of a concussion that forced her to miss much of the preseason, but both are healthy now and ready to contribute.
“Obviously I don't have the strength, but I have the length,” Pietropola said. “So I just use it to the best of my ability and see what I can do with it.”
Now expert rebounders, Heinle and Pietropola will attempt to help Slippery Rock do the same. The Rock finished 9-19 last season and were picked sixth in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference preseason poll, but the twosome believe the upcoming season won't be quite so gruesome.
“Coach always says we're the land of the misfits, so every year (it's about) how we can come together and how we can accept our roles and flourish in our roles and come together as a team,” Heinle said. “It's been a tough preseason, but everyone's worked really hard, and I'm excited to see what we can do when someone else is in front of us.”