Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2022-23 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 9. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season click here)
It was the most exciting slice of pizza Lucy Olsen ever ate.
As a fifth-grader at Upper Providence Elementary, already in love with the sport of basketball but with no idea where it would take her, Olsen went to a camp run by the Spring-Ford girls’ basketball program, the various high schoolers on the Rams’ roster serving as counselors.
Villanova sophomore Lucy Olsen is ready to shoulder a little bit more in her second year as a starter. (Photo: Jack Verdeur/CoBL)
She was immediately starstruck. And hungry.
“I was like ‘Oh my God, these are the people that play on the court,’” she recalled with a laugh. “I remember one of them was eating pizza and I went over to her and I was like ‘can I have a piece of your pizza?’ and she gave it to me [...] I thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
If only Olsen knew what was in store.
Nine years later, the Spring-Ford alum is going into her sophomore season at Villanova, on track to be a four-year starter for Denise Dillon’s Wildcats. She’s already played in March Madness, helped the Wildcats to one of the biggest regular-season wins in program history, earned All-Rookie honors in the Big East. And there’s no doubt that if she were eating a pizza, there are countless girls in the Delaware Valley who would love her to share a slice.
Not bad for someone who’s loved basketball for as long as she can remember, but never realized where it could take her.
“I just played basketball for fun,” she said. “I didn’t even know what college basketball was — I just played basketball.
“[It] was like, I want to be on the high school varsity team. I feel like that was my main goal, and then I was like ‘Yeah, I’ll play in college.’ Why wouldn’t I play in college? I didn’t think ‘Oh my gosh, I have to play in college.’ I just wanted to keep on playing.”
Olsen fulfilled her childhood dream as a 9th grader, proving good enough to play for Spring-Ford coach Mickey McDaniel from the get-go. She went on to become the best ever to don a Rams uniform: 1,699 career points (tops in school history, regardless of gender), a two-time First Team All-State Selection, Miss Pennsylvania Basketball as a senior, four-time Pioneer Athletic Champion; as a senior, she led Spring-Ford to a District 1 6A championship and PIAA Class 6A runner-up.
Oh yeah, and she won a PIAA tennis doubles championship too, for good measure.
It was sometime around her sophomore year of high school, as she was growing from a 5-foot-tall freshman to her current 5-10 height, that Olsen started to realize her potential on the court.
Dillon, then the coach at Drexel, already knew Olsen was going to be a Division I recruit; when she hit her growth spurt, it became a no-brainer. When Dillon got hired in March 2020 as Villanova’s fifth-ever women’s head coach, following up on the 42-year career of Harry Perretta, there was no doubt about who she wanted her first recruit to be.
Olsen committed to the Wildcats three weeks later.
She entered her freshman year with no expectations, no preconceived notions of how the year would go, or what her role might be. But with Wildcats starting point guard Raven James graduating, Dillon knew she was going to lean on Olsen to play big minutes from the get-go.
“As soon as she got here,” Dillon said, “I said ‘listen, it’s our job to guide you and prepare you, we’re going to throw you right into the fire from the jump. So just be who you are, we’ll continue to develop in different areas.’
“The reminder for Lucy was to take care of the basketball and play defense, and everything else will come into play.”
Villanova sophomore Lucy Olsen had a 2.34-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. (Photo: Jack Verdeur/CoBL)
Starting all 33 games last season — the only member of the Wildcats to do so — and playing just shy of 30 minutes per game, she turned the ball over only 38 times, the lowest mark out of any of the Villanova starters. Her 89 assists gave her a 2.34 assist-to-turnover ratio which would have ranked in the top 25 in the country; the NCAA requires 3.0 apg minimum to qualify for its leaderboards.
According to HerHoopStats, Villanova was No. 25 in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.18:1), 30th in turnovers per game (12.9) and 54th in turnover rate (16.5%), while ranking 22nd in assisted shot rate (64.4%). All of that with a true freshman at point guard.
Even Dillon didn’t see that coming.
“Certainly,” she said with a laugh, “She took it to a level [that was] a little bit unexpected.”
The Wildcats finished the year 24-9, the program’s most wins in a season since 2002-03 (28-6), making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed, upsetting No. 6 seed BYU in the first round before losing to No. 3 seed Michigan in the second.
There was also a win over national powerhouse UConn in February, snapping the Huskies’ 169-game conference win streak which dated back to 2013. Olsen played 35 minutes in that game, scoring 11 points with seven assists against just one turnover. Her best offensive game came in December against Lehigh, when she scored 22 points on 14 shots, with seven rebounds and a couple dimes, one of eight double-digit scoring outings she had on the season.
“It was awesome,” Olsen said. “We had a great year, won a game in March Madness, super-fun, made it to the Big East championship. [...] Definitely beating UConn was a huge highlight. Crazy first year.”
Now Olsen is one of five sophomores on the Wildcats’ roster, one of three returning starters along with senior forward and Big East Preseason Player of the Year Maddy Siegrist and senior guard Brooke Mullin, a Neshaminy grad. Gone are the team’s second- and third-leading scorers, Lior Garzon (13.1 ppg) and Brianna Herlihy (10.7 ppg); other than Siegrist (25.3 ppg), Olsen is their second-leading returning scorer.
Both coach and player said that Olsen is the first option to step into the No. 2 offensive role, with Mullin (4.8 ppg), Bella Runyan (3.6 ppg) and Penn State transfer Maddie Burke in the mix to be regular double-digit scorers as well. Dillon also mentioned that she expects sophomore Zanai Jones, who averaged 1.3 ppg in 22 appearances last year, to see more time this year, allowing the Wildcats to move Olsen off the ball and take advantage of her scoring abilities.
“She is a scoring point guard, she has that ability,” Dillon said. “Her mid-range game is really good [...] she’s worked with her back to the basket, little fadeaway, so she’s learning to use her length and skillset in different aspects. Lucy is understanding where and when, picking her opportunities to score.”
“I think everyone on the team is going to have to be a little more aggressive,” Olsen said. “I’m just looking to go in and take what the defense gives me; if they’re going to double Maddy, I’m going to try to make them pay for it.”
The Wildcats open their season on Nov. 7 with a road game at Marist, the first of four straight true road games (including two Big 5 contests) to open the season before a trip to the Gulf Coast Showcase in Naples, Fla. on November 25 for a three-game swing. They don’t play their first home game until their Big East opener, Dec. 2 against Creighton
Olsen said she’s trying to slow everything down, not wanting to think about the fact that in a few short months, her college career will be half over. In the meanwhile she’s helping acclimate a new group of four freshmen to the group, introducing them to Villanova basketball and the other favorite pastime of the team: spikeball, a sport which involves two teams of two standing around a small net, something the Wildcats can play just about anywhere.
She’s already starting to think a little bit about what’s next, changing her major from engineering to communications, the focus entirely on making basketball her career. Olsen said she plans on spending the next summer coaching for her old AAU program, the Lady’ Runnin Rebels, and even Dillon noted Olsen’s “love for the teaching aspect of the game,” a clear indicator she thinks her point guard would indeed make a good coach down the road.
Most important to Olsen is influencing the next generation of girls, just the way she was as a fifth-grader, when that one slice of pizza made such an impact.
“I definitely want to go back to some more camps and go back to the basketball games,” she said. “Remembering that little stuff — I’d love to give people high-fives, if I make their day, and I love doing that stuff.”