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Christina Dalce poised to take another leap for 'Nova women

11/01/2023, 10:00am EDT
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2023-24 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 6. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season click here.)


At Villanova’s annual Hoops Mania preseason pep rally, Christina Dalce’s introduction was fitting: the junior came out with a squad of dancers, performing a small portion of Michael Jackson’s famous “Thriller” dance.

Makes sense — Dalce’s plan this year is to be a nightmare for opponents. 

Dalce (above, with ball) became Villanova's full-time starter at center last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The 6-foot-2 forward out of Rutgers Prep (N.J.) burst onto the scene last year as the Wildcats’ starting center, going from a sparingly used freshman to one of the best defensive posts around. 

Now one of the focal points for a ‘Nova squad aiming to keep up momentum in the post-Maddy Siegrist era, she’s entering her upperclassman years the most confident she’s ever been, coming off a summer that saw her travel around the world for hoops.

“(My confidence level is) high, but not too high, you know what I’m saying?” she said after a practice in late October. “I always have to keep myself humble. Every day is a new day.”

Dalce played in only 13 games as a freshman two years back, seeing a total of 68 minutes, though her 22 points and 26 rebounds in those minutes were a sign that she was able to be productive when she was on the floor. 

She jumped into the starting lineup full-time last season, and a 13-point, 17-rebound, five-block  effort in the season-opener set the tone. The 2022-23 Big 5 Most Improved Player, she averaged 7.3 points and 7.9 rebounds while setting the Villanova single-season record with 86 blocks; she compiled four double-doubles and 17 games with three blocks or more. 

That progression wasn’t any surprise to Villanova head coach Denise Dillon.

“She’s extremely competitive, she wants to win, she wants to be successful, and she’s learning what it takes to do that,” Dillon said. “It’s not within one practice, it’s not within one game, it’s not a series, it’s just consistent effort and work. You see that growth and maturity in her.”

Dalce’s offseason was arguably even busier, much of it spent playing 3-on-3 basketball. It started with a trip out to Colorado Springs in May for the 2023 USA Basketball 3X Nationals, where she and ‘Nova teammates Lucy Olsen, Maddie Burke and Zanai Jones competed against other collegiate teams in the half-court style that’s become a significant part of the international game. 

Dalce spent the summer working on her face-up abilities to contribute more offensively. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Dalce and Olsen played well enough to earn a spot on the 2023 USA 3x3 U21 Nations League team, which meant a trip to Handan, China, in June for a qualification tournament for the world championships.

“Seeing a different culture, experiencing something new. I don’t know when I’ll ever go to China again, so at least I went and it was for two weeks, I got the full experience and I enjoyed every single minute of it,” she said. “Being with Lucy, with Morgan Maly from Creighton and also [Maryland’s] Shyanne [Sellers] and [Minnesota’s] Mara Braun, and being with the men’s team as well, we had a whole group and by the end of the trip we became like a family, so it was really nice.”

The USA U-21 squad won that tournament, advancing to September’s championships in Mongolia. In between, Dalce and Olsen went up Edmonton, Canada, to play in the FIBA 3x3 Women’s Series, where they played on the USA U-24 squad against teams full of pros, going 1-2 in the competition. 

Dalce’s trip to Mongolia was a successful one, as the USA U-21s took home the world championship for the first time, going 6-0, beating the USA’s U-23 squad in the semifinals and then China in the championship. She returned home more confident than ever and in the best shape of her life.

“I’ll definitely say stamina, for sure,” she said of the biggest asset to her game from the 3-on-3 experience. “Even though it’s half-court, the amount of running you’re doing from the time you’re playing defense ... they score, or you get the rebound, you’re taking it out yourself and you’re going to get it, so it’s nonstop moving.”

One of three returning starters for this year’s Villanova women, Dalce will be counted on to play more than the 23.9 mpg she averaged as a sophomore, especially with Mississippi State transfer Denae Carter out for the season with a knee injury. While the Wildcats have no doubt she’ll once again be one of the best defensive centers around, they’re hoping she’ll be more of an offensive threat after making just 41.1% of her shots, most of them coming right around the bucket. 

Becoming a more consistent finisher is Phase 1; extending her range to knock down some of the face-up jumpers Siegrist specialized in is also in the works.

“We’ve talked with Chris about scoring more efficiently around the basket — it’s not just about getting a rebound and sending it back up there, it’s about being under control with the rebound/putback,” Dillon said. “She’s also really worked on extending her range. She was bothered, a lot of people played off her, standing in the paint when she’d catch it on the perimeter; she noticed that and she wants to be honored when she’s on the perimeter.”

The advantage for Dalce now that she’s an upperclassman is she’s not nervous about being pulled off the court, that a missed shot won’t mean a reduction in minutes or opportunities. After all she’s been through over the last 12 months, domestically and abroad, she knows she belongs.

“I’m not afraid to do something on the floor compared to what it was before, like, ‘Oh, if I shoot it they might not play me, they might not pass me the ball anymore,’” she said. “Now it’s more so making the right choices — I think my teammates trust me to make the right choices.”

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