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Helene Haegerstrand Leaves the Great Danes After Mirroring a Program’s Growth

By Christian Hince | April 29, 2024

When Helene Haegerstrand came to the University at Albany in 2019 as part of head coach Colleen Mullen’s first recruiting class, the Great Danes were coming off their first losing season in nine years at 13-18 and in their third coaching regime since 2016. While UAlbany needed an identity upon Haegerstrand’s arrival, the six-foot-one Swedish forward defined the school’s return to mid-major success with potent shooting and consistent leadership across her five years as a Great Dane. 

Helene Haegerstrand (#14) during a March 11 game against Vermont.

Photo Credit: Christian Hince / The ASP

Haegerstrand has played the most games in program history, appearing in 143 contests across her five years, has the school’s fourth-most career points with 1,559, and the program’s second most career 3-pointers behind 2002-06 guard Jen Schumaker. She has career averages of 10.9 points per game, 44.6 percent from the field, and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc. She’s a seminal player in the school’s modern era, and had things worked out a little differently, the Great Danes might’ve missed her.

Swedish players have been a steady part of Mullen’s program. Amanda Cantzy, a Swedish forward who played her last year of eligibility for the team in 2019-20, mentioned her friend -Haegerstrand- as a possible recruit to Mullen during her first year on the job. Mullen planned a March 2019 visit to Sweden, however her departure lined up with the America East championship game, which the Great Danes were one win away from. “Had we gone to the championship game, I would have missed my trip to Sweden. But I guess it was a double edged sword because as luck would have it, we lost in the semifinal,” she said.

While Haegerstrand was also interested in playing for Stephen F. Austin, Mullen swayed her to the Great Danes. “I just knew that in talking to her in person that I really wanted to get up here for this,” she said.

Upon coming to Albany with family, she felt the same way. “It just right away felt very family oriented, [the] coaching staff [were] super approachable, super nice,” she said. “I just really felt like I could start something new here, and it felt like a second home kind of right away.”

After spending time with Haegerstrand in the gym, Mullen recognized a “prolific” shooting ability in the forward and encouraged her to embrace this part of her skillset. This role worked out nicely, as the freshman Haegerstrand shot 37.5 percent from three and 43.2 percent overall, scoring 8.8 points per game en route to winning America East rookie of the year. “She attached herself to the right people that were doing the right things,” Mullen said. “She worked extremely hard, she was coachable, she had a growth mindset.” 

Haegerstrand’s individual rookie performance contrasted a 9-21 finish in 2019-20, and the Great Danes went 7-11 in the following COVID-shortened year where she led the team in scoring with 10.2 points per game. While her personal success wasn’t immediately translating to wins, she assisted off the court as a Swedish recruiting force just like Cantzy was for her years ago, luring in guard Ellen Hahne as a transfer from Wake Forest in 2020.

Hahne was an America East all-defensive team player in 2022-23 and also brought Swedish forward Freja Werth as a freshman in 2021 according to Mullen, continuing an effect which Haegerstrand finds normal.“I think it's just the relationship coach Mullen and the staff has built with us and how we've been, like embracing the fact that we love playing for them,” she said.

Mullen says Haegerstrand, who most call “Hellie” for short, was 21 when she entered the program, and thinks her level of life experience had a clear impact on the team, with her becoming a team captain in just year two. “It certainly echoed those leadership abilities and gave her a platform to really impact the team in a positive way,” she said.

It all came together in Haegerstrand’s third year, with her leading the team in scoring again and the Great Danes winning the America East championship over Maine to appear in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.

“It was such a rewarding feeling and also a relief, because it felt like a little pay off of everything we'd been through [and] what we had done,” she said.

The following year, UAlbany went 22-12 overall and 14-2 in the America East before falling in the conference championship to Vermont. While her team’s winning ways continued, Haegerstrand averaged career highs in points with 14.2 per game as well as shooting with marks of 47.5 percent overall and 39 percent beyond the arc.

Having struggled with a lower leg injury her entire career at UAlbany, Haegerstrand originally planned to medically retire for the 2023-24 season, while Mullen kept her scholarship for her to work as a graduate assistant during her would-be final year of eligibility. By October though, she wanted to come back.

 “I talked to the staff and they were super supportive and said, ‘We can work something out.’ And from then on, it was like, ‘Well, I do have the chance, this is once a lifetime,’” she said.

For Mullen, this was pretty good news. “I was ecstatic. I got one more year to coach Hellie and I got one more year for her to impact our team in a positive way with her character and her talent.”

Haegerstrand had a smaller role this year and averaged single-digit scoring for the first time since her freshman year, but one of her best performances came in her final full game. In UAlbany’s 60-55 conference semifinal loss to Vermont, she scored 15 points and led the team with seven rebounds.

However, losses like this haven’t diminished Haegerstrand’s grateful view of UAlbany’s program, and she’s sad to leave her teammates and coaches after earning her master’s degree in May. “It's going to be super weird leaving but I know they're all just a phone call away, and I hope they feel the same way,” she said.

Mullen certainly feels the same, and she hopes UAlbany’s success represents that. “When she came here she really wanted to create a legacy, and I truly built the program around her and her values,” she said.

“She is the perfect ambassador for the university in the athletic department, she is an unbelievable student, she's an unbelievable person.”


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