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Mercury All-Area: Spring-Ford’s Lucy Olsen revamps her game with advice from past Rams star

From the moment she arrived as a freshman, Spring-Ford’s Lucy Olsen was one of the best players in the Pioneer Athletic Conference.

It’s an impressive distinction, but talent isn’t what sets Olsen apart.

“What stands out is her passion for the game of basketball,” said Spring-Ford head coach Mickey McDaniel. “But even more than that is her drive to be the best player and leader she can be. She has prepared herself very well and understands the sacrifice and hard work it takes to be the best she can be.

“She always strives to learn more and wants to learn more because she knows it’s going to help her be the best.”

Entering her sophomore season, Olsen sought advice from a superb source: past Spring-Ford great Sammy Stipa, the former two-time Mercury All-Area Player of the Year who led the Rams to the state championship game twice (2012-13 champion).

“I really wanted to build my mid-range game up. I know Sammy Stipa had a really good mid-range game and she said that helped her a lot,” Olsen said. “I wanted to keep improving on my 3-pointers and driving to the basket. But then if I got the mid-range game in there too it would help a lot.”

Spring-Ford sophomore Lucy Olsen cuts down a piece of the net after the Rams’ second straight PAC title this past season. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

It’s all part of the process that helped Olsen, a 5-9 point guard, take a step forward as a sophomore, a season that earned her Mercury All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year honors. Olsen scored 15.1 points per game and averaged 5.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, all team-highs, for a Spring-Ford team that repeated as Pioneer Athletic Conference champions, reached the semifinals of the District 1-6A championships and the second round of the PIAA 6A championships.

Southeast Pa. isn’t the only place that has taken notice of Olsen: she has been selected to participate in the USA Basketball U16 tryout camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., from May 23-26.

Olsen earned Mercury All-Area first team selection as a freshman but knew she needed to add more at a time when more would be required of her as a leader and primary ball-handler.

The Spring-Ford program has embraced an approach coined by Villanova men’s head coach Jay Wright: ‘We play for those who came before us.’

‘We learn from those who came before us’ would apply, too, as is the case with Olsen seeking the advice of Stipa, who went on to be a multi-year starter over four years at Division I Lafayette.

“I grew up watching the games and wanting to play like Sammy and looking up to her, Sarah Payonk, all of them. It was so cool to see them,” Olsen said of the past Rams players who led the program to back-to-back PIAA championship game appearances in 2013 and 2014.

“And now that I’m here, I want to keep getting better because I remember seeing them and knowing how they all wanted to get better and win.”

Olsen finding her inner drive isn’t a challenge as McDaniel tells it: “Lucy wants to win so bad. She does not tolerate losing at all. When you take the drive and passion she has to want to be the best and then you put in the competitive drive and fire, that’s a great, winning combination.”

While continuing to develop her 3-point shooting — she shot 37-percent from outside for the second straight year at a higher volume — and her ability to get to the rim, Olsen added the mid-range game in her second season. The elbow of the paint became a hotspot for Olsen with a blend of pull-up jumpers and floaters that helped her score in double figures in 27 of 29 games.

Spring-Ford’s Lucy Olsen (3) drives to the hoop as Haverford’s Annalena O’Reilly defends during their District 1-6A playoff game this season. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Scoring doesn’t rank at the top of the most notable parts of Olsen’s game though. Her dribbling skills jump off the page ­— there are few players in the state with a better handle ­— and the consistency of always wanting to make the ‘right basketball play.’

“I’m not thinking ‘I’ve got to score here’ or about my stats at all,” Olsen said. “If I drive to the basket and no one stops me then I’m going to shoot it, but if a defender comes I’m going to try to find who’s open. I think it comes with the game.”

The attention she garnered drew more than a few open looks for shooters Cassie Marte and Emily Tiffan, All-Area first and second team selections, respectively, or got opportunities for forward Olivia Olsen, Lucy’s older sister. The daughters of Roland and Kelly Olsen, Lucy credits her father with cultivating her love for basketball: “He made it fun, so I wanted to get better and keep playing,” Lucy Olsen said. “I was taught that it was awesome, and I grew up loving it.”

With all those attributes on the offensive side, Olsen’s defense can fly under the radar, yet she’s a prototype for Spring-Ford’s pressing style.

“She has been an excellent on-ball defender, but I think her off-the-ball defense gets overlooked,” McDaniel said. “She gets numerous deflections, tips, had 31 blocks from the guard position … She has a high basketball IQ and a great feel for the game.”

Spring-Ford’s Lucy Olsen (3) raises up for a shot against the defense of Cardinal O’Hara’s Sydni Scott during a PIAA 6A playoff game this season. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Spring-Ford dominated the Pioneer Athletic Conference all season, going 16-0 in the regular season and finishing its PAC title repeat with a 55-41 win over Methacton in the title game on Feb. 13.

The Rams got their defining win of the season in the District 1-6A quarterfinals, knocking off reigning state champion Upper Dublin, 41-39 in overtime.

“They were a really good team and it tested us to see how we were,” Olsen said. “There I think we all came together and showed we can finish strong. That was a really big game for our season.”

The Rams were into the District 1 semifinals until they suffered their first loss to a Pennsylvania opponent, a 42-40 loss to eventual champion Garnet Valley on Feb. 27. (Spring-Ford’s only earlier losses were against out-of-state opposition at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Ariz., in December).

Spring-Ford never could regain its positive momentum the rest of the way, needing to scrape by an overmatched Nazareth team 48-44 in the first round of states before bowing out in the second round to Cardinal O’Hara, 41-37, the Rams’ furious rally falling short after a disastrous first half.

“It was a good season,” Olsen said. “I was sorry that it ended. I think we definitely improved over the season. Obviously that’s a goal of every team, to keep improving, and I think we did that. I’m happy with how we played.”

With another two years at Spring-Ford in store, Olsen isn’t bashful about her goals: she wants to win another two PAC titles, a district title and a PIAA championship, just like those who came before her.

There’s little doubt about how Olsen will attack the goals ahead of her junior and senior seasons … after all, she’s still learning.

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