HERSHEY >> Having a Boccella sister on the roster has done wonders for Lansdale Catholic girls soccer and basketball the past five years.
Saturday afternoon in Hershey, Olivia Boccella added another big shot to her growing resume and a little more history to the family name as the junior guard helped the Crusaders win their first PIAA basketball title about a month after she’d hit the game-winning shot for the program’s first PCL title. A few hours north on Route 322, Julia Boccella felt an immense amount of pride watching her sister replicate what she’d done for LC soccer as a key player on that program’s first-ever PCL champion as a junior in 2018 and first state champion as a senior.
Two sisters combining to win four historic titles is quite a feat, one that’s even better when they’re each other’s biggest fan.
“It feels like I’m following in her footsteps. I’ve always wanted to be just like her,” Olivia said. “In soccer, we didn’t really win anything yet but to be able to do it in my own way but also following her, it feels like a really big accomplishment.”
Julia, now a junior at Penn State after graduating from LC in 2019, watched the entire state title game on her computer Saturday afternoon and confessed to screaming her head off when Olivia hit the deep three-point shot in the third quarter that gave the Crusaders the lead for good. There was nobody in the state who better understood what Olivia was feeling when the final buzzer sounded than her sister.
“Winning states and PCL were two of the best days of my life so having her able to experience that was awesome,” Julia said. “She’s going to remember both of those days for the rest of her life.”
Julia probably deserves an indirect assist for her sister being at LC in the first place. While Olivia is a really good soccer player, basketball’s her number one sport and she was weighing her options on where she wanted to attend high school despite her sister’s constant prodding that there’s nowhere like LC.
Eighth-grade Olivia was in the stands, along with just about every student, teacher and administrator from Lansdale Catholic on that chilly November afternoon in 2019 watching her sister and her teammates play their hearts out to beat Erie’s Villa Maria 1-0 to win the PIAA 2A title. When they talked soon after, Julia knew immediately her sister had been swayed by seeing the way the LC community rallied around her team on that championship run.
“The community is unreal but I don’t think she understood until she came to my state game and saw it,” Julia, who served as a team captain her senior year, said. “I remember seeing her in the stands and she went ‘Jul, I’m definitely coming here’ and I was so excited, like ‘she finally gets it.’
“I’m so glad she went to LC and had that experience.”
Olivia’s first year at LC was a difficult one with the PIAA and PCL playing under strict restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic. In soccer, the Crusaders only got a handful of games and no postseason while her first season in basketball ended with a 2-11 record.
The last two years have gone much better for basketball, LC making its first state title game last year then getting the triple crown this year with the PCL, District 12 and PIAA titles. It hasn’t been bad in soccer either, Olivia has taken her sister’s spot at center back from day one, the keystone to coach Bree Benedict’s defense right down to the No. 7 that adorns her uniform.
“I grew up playing soccer too, basketball’s my top but it’s cool for me to do that because soccer is her top sport,” Olivia said. “Bree’s very superstitious with the numbers, so she gives certain jerseys to people who deserve those numbers and she wanted me to have Jul’s.”
Even though she had work the night of the PCL final, Julia rushed back to her apartment — which she shares with one of her LC soccer teammates, Kellie Gillen — as soon as she was done to catch the finish. It was a pro-Crusader crowd, a few LC alums that live in the same building came over to screen the game, and they all went nuts when Olivia hit “The Shot,” her deep three that propelled the Crusaders to the win over Archbishop Wood.
“We were shaking, it was crazy, screaming and jumping up and down,” Julia said. “I think we both screamed ‘Liv’s open’ on the last shot and when she hit it, our whole apartment was going crazy.”
Julia and Olivia may have the titles, but don’t discount the Boccella boys either. Jimmy played basketball at LC and Kevin was a golfer for the school and a hooper on the side so the family group chat is constantly buzzing and there’s a lot of competition when the four of them happen to be home at the same time.
“The boys always want to play two on two,” Julia said with a laugh. “There’s this whole debate in my family whether it’s cooler to win PCL in soccer or basketball – they all say basketball but I still think it’s soccer. We joke and tease but we’re super close so it’s always in fun.”
Even this past week leading up to the state final there was a little good-natured ribbing between siblings.
“I think I was joking around like ‘both girls already won PCL and we’re about to both win states’ and they were like ‘you didn’t win it yet,'” Olivia said. “They’re very proud of me but they’re also the first ones to come in and criticize me.”
Olivia said her sister’s not one to trash talk or anything like that, so even though Julia had to wait a year between titles, she’s not planning to hold it over her sister that she got both a month apart. Julia even said she was more impressed Olivia and her teammates did it all in one season, adding their experiences last year in the playoffs probably helped them.
“LC is the best place ever,” Julia said. “I’m so glad we could both have the chance to do something like this for LC.”
ONE AND WON >> Jaida Helm even caught Eric Gidney by surprise.
The senior forward spouted a stat about LC’s season that Gidney hadn’t even thought about. After winning their first three games, LC’s season was dominated by two winning streaks.
“We lost to Neshaminy then won 13 straight. We lost to O’Hara then won 13 straight,” Helm said. “No. 12 was Scranton Prep, this was 13 so I think the basketball gods were telling us something.”
“That’s a good point,” Gidney said passing by.
Helm was the newcomer to LC this year, but she shared the same desire to get a state championship as all her teammates who lost in Hershey the year before. The forward realized her game would have to evolve this year and while she only scored three points on Saturday, she was just as important to LC winning as any of the other four starters who played next to her all 32 minutes.
“I feel like I became a better passer,” Helm said. “Playing with Sanyiah, playing with Gabby, I learned to play off the ball and out more on the wing and picking spots. I haven’t taken as many shots as I used to, but they helped me be more efficient and I tried to help them be more efficient and really balanced off each other.”
Helm is hoping to continue her career at the college level. She’s talked with some Division II programs and had a few conversations with some smaller Division I schools so she’s hoping to figure everything out in the next month or so.
“They brought me in like I’d been here all four years, I felt like I’ve been here all four years and I wish I was here all four years,” Helm said. “Just the way we interact with each other, it’s great to be with them and I’m going to miss them.”
SUPER SEVEN >> Wood’s last two senior classes don’t even combine to outnumber the Vikings in the Class of 2023.
With seven seniors in this year’s class, it was a different dynamic than Head Coach Mike McDonald has been used to in recent years. The three seniors who departed in 2021 all started, as did the 2022 trio but that wasn’t the case this year.
Still, it didn’t make it any more difficult to coach them.
“A lot of seniors that stuck together,” McDonald said. “Some kids played less minutes than they would have liked and there wasn’t an inkling of a bad attitude. They wanted it for each other, they put each other first. It’s a tremendous group and I said it was like a vacation this season with how easy it was to coach them.
“A positive, uplifting group. They loved each other and that made it special.”
McDonald got married this fall and many of his players were attendees at the wedding. They help him run camps in the summer, they’re always in the gym for workouts and even the alums want to come back and get in an open gym run or pop in to see a game.
Saturday’s title, the team’s third in a row, was truly a team accomplishment. While senior Deja Evans will play at Albany and Kara Meredith at Holy Family, this Wood team had a different dynamic than the past few years and took on the identity of its seven-strong senior class.
“It was huge for us, we’ve grown together so much,” Delaney Finnegan said. “We all have each other’s backs, we all motivate each other and we’re all so close.
“Everybody can bring something to the table, we don’t have one person who does it all or is our player, it allows us to have a lot of chemistry on the court.”
Four of those seniors — Kara Meredith, Allie Fleming, Lauren Tretter and Campbell McCloskey — were with McDonald even longer as they all played as part of his Mid-Atlantic Magic AAU team.
“I get to be a little more loose with them in AAU, it’s been fun, I get to know them better,” McDonald said. “But we spend enough time together here at Wood that you’re able to build a great relationship with all the players.”