HERSHEY >> When Lindsay Hillegas checked into Friday night’s PIAA Class 6A girls basketball championship the result was already decided.
The Boyertown senior simply being in a jersey and having the opportunity to check in was a victory itself.
Entering the game in the final minute before the Bears celebrated their first state championship with a 46-35 victory over North Allegheny, Hillegas had her Boyertown girls basketball career largely derailed by two ACL injuries, costing her parts of her freshman and all of her sophomore and junior seasons.
It would have been entirely reasonable for Hillegas to call it a career, accepting luck wasn’t on her side.
Instead, Hillegas, the daughter of former Bears’ player Matt Hillegas and granddaughter of former Boyertown football coach and boys basketball assistant Bob Hillegas, rehabbed again, intent on getting on the court her senior season.
“There was definitely a time period where I wondered, ‘Can I go back?’ It’s a big mental game,” she said. “With the support of my teammates, I knew I had unfinished business to do with Boyertown basketball and I needed to play my senior year. That’s what got me back on the court.”
Her senior season turned out better than she could have imagined.
“There’s no words to describe the feeling. It could bring tears to my eyes,” Hillegas said an hour before tip-off sitting on the edge of the court at Giant Center. “It’s so amazing to go through what I’ve been through and have the support of my team.”
Hillegas suffered her first ACL tear in eighth grade, had a six-month recovery and was able to play parts of her freshman year and the AAU season the following spring. That summer, entering her 10th grade year, she suffered another tear, which cost her both her sophomore and junior seasons.
She got plenty of words of advice from her father Matt, who suffered a torn ACL during his football career at East Stroudsburg University, where Lindsay will attend in the fall.
“Knowing what he went through, that really helped me. He was always there for me,” Linsday said of her father.
“I told her, from my own personal experience, ‘This isn’t going to be easy,’” Matt Hillegas said.’”There’s a lot of kids that would have packed it in. But that shows her character. It takes a strong individual to come back from an injury like that.”
Like daughter, like father. Matt Hillegas returned to finish his football career his final two seasons. Lindsay Hillegas returned to become a basketball state champion.
Lindsay played in 12 games this season, her name on Friday’s box score no doubt the highlight.
“My senior year, my last basketball game and I’m ending it where most kids can only dream,” Lindsay said. “It’s amazing.”
She isn’t bashful about who her greatest influences are: her father and grandfather.
“My dad and my grandfather, I have to give them all the credit in the world. They have had the most influence on my life. They have always been there for me every game. I owe everything I know to those two.”
Grandfather Bob Hillegas is a 1963 Boyertown graduate who was a three-sport athlete and went on to play football at Kutztown University, where he was later inducted into the KU Hall of Fame (1984). A retired geography teacher at Boyertown, he was a longtime football coach (assistant 1972-82; head coach 1987-94) and was an assistant to Jack McCloskey with the boys’ basketball program.
Coincidentally, Bob Hillegas was connected to the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s last girls basketball state champion, too. Spring-Ford’s 2013 state champion in Class 4A was coached by Jeff Rinehimer, a Boyertown grad who served as an assistant under Hillegas and considered Hillegas and McCloskey his greatest coaching mentors.
Father Matt Hillegas also played basketball at Boyertown and competed in the Berks County championship game against Reading, which featured longtime NBA player Donyell Marshall, in the 1989-90 season. This year’s Red Knights, fueled by McDonald’s All-American Lonnie Walker IV (who broke Marshall’s scoring record this winter), have been the first Reading team to create the same level of buzz as the celebrated Marshall teams. Reading played for the boys’ 6A title Saturday night back a Giant Center, a night after the Boyertown girls made it their Sweetest Place on Earth.
“This is the stuff you dream of,” Matt Hillegas said. “I told (Lindsay on Friday) morning, this is your last year. You need to soak in every aspect of this day: walking into the arena, the bus ride there, the experience with your teammates.
“That’s the nice thing with these kids, from the freshman all the way up to the seniors, it’s a tight-knit group and it goes through the parents as well. It’s a great community. All you have to do is drive through Boyertown this week and you see what it is all about.”
For all the athletic accomplishments of three generations in the Hillegas family, only one can speak of the experience of playing for a state championship.
“Finally, I have something over them,” Lindsay said with a laugh.