Grimme’s fairy tale

Altoona product starring at Manhattan

Altoona graduate Kayla Grimme is one of the senior leaders of the Manhattan women’s team playing at Penn State.

Altoona graduate Kayla Grimme is enjoying a pretty special weekend that will be capped off today when she’s introduced with the rest of Manhattan’s starters as the Jaspers take on Penn State’s women’s basketball team at the Bryce Jordan Center at 2 p.m.

“I think the game at Penn State is going to be my top moment of my five years being here,” Grimme said. “Just growing up and watching the girls at Penn State, I have always seen them as these big superstars. Knowing I will be on that same court with them and another little girl in the stands could be thinking the same thing I did, that is going to be an amazing moment.”

Grimme, her teammates and coaches had a team dinner at her family’s house in Altoona Saturday night, and most of the weekend has been the culmination of something Manhattan’s Heather Vulin has been working on since she took over as head coach last year.

“If a kid isn’t from the area, they should get a home game,” Vulin said. “When I got here, our schedule for last year was already set. This season we started working on that. I tried to reach out and make a date that would work (with Penn State). I’m really excited about it for her.”

Through six games, Grimme leads the Jaspers with averages of 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.

“Kayla is a special young lady,” Vulin said. “When I got the job, I felt like she was a good basketball player, but I challenged her to be a great basketball player. I challenged her to do more, because I wanted her to hit her ceiling, and I thought she could be an all-conference player.

“Our post coach worked with her on extra shooting, and she molded herself into an all-conference player (during her junior year). She’s someone who has the type of game to be player of the year if we can finish in the top four in conference, and she’s basically averaging a double double.”

Grimme also is the all-time Manhattan record-holder for career blocks despite standing at 6-foot-2.

“I think I have always had a knack for it,” Grimme said. “It wasn’t an area for focus. I tried to make sure I could do it with both my left and right hand, because if you just use one it can get you in foul trouble reaching across your body.

“I think that’s another thing that’s humbling, to know I have my name in the record book, is something I never really expected. It shows my hard work is paying is off.”

Due to her prowess at blocking shots, Grimme was always a traditional post player at Altoona and during her early years at Manhattan, but the current coaching staff wanted her to expand her game after watching her knock down a few open shots during her junior year.

“We were playing a conference game, and they didn’t guard post players outside 15 feet,” Vulin said. “She had taken one 3-pointer in her career at that point, and then she shot 41 or 43 percent from that range after working on it. She opens doors for our team, and we love her versatility, because it gives us more flexibility.”

Grimme’s extra work in the gym shooting after practice has paid off, and she said she thinks the game of basketball is heading more in the direction of versatile post players.

“Since coming to college, we bring in officials to work with us in preseason, and they will go over the new rules,” Grimme said. “They have really been key on explaining the game wants to be more finesse to make it smoother, and they have been looking for that. Viewers want to see that when they watch a game. In my four years playing, I have seen that develop.”

Grimme graduated with a major in communications and minor in marketing from Manhattan and is now in graduate school as an organizational leadership major with plans to finish up this summer or next fall.

She recently surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career while scoring 32 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a loss to Sacred Heart on Nov. 15. She’s among the top 20 all-time scorers at Manhattan, and this year she’s trying to take on more of a leadership role.

“That’s been a point of emphasis with me and the coaches,” Grimme said. “I have always produced on the court but I haven’t always felt comfortable as a leader, but my post coach has worked on it with me.

“I have tried to make strides toward that, and I try to follow in (team captain) Amani Tatum’s footsteps and look at her as a role model.”

Vulin has been happy with Grimme’s progress.

“I have been really impressed with her leadership,” Vulin said. “She’s leading by example and a vocal leader. She’s impressed us on and off the court and is really blossoming into an amazing young woman.”

Manhattan enters today’s game at 2-4, but Grimme has proven she can excel against tough competition. She recently led Manhattan with 16 points and nine rebounds in a loss to nationally ranked California.

“Obviously when she plays well, we play well,” Vulin said. “I try to run plays though her, and if she keeps competing the way she has, I’m expecting her to have a big game.”