By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
GLENSIDE — Olivia Scotti wasn’t sure she wanted to continue her basketball career after high school.
Then after her junior AAU season the Neshaminy product committed herself to playing at the next level, eventually choosing DeSales during her senior year.
Scotti’s commitment has been tested throughout her time with the Bulldogs. A knee injury that wiped away her sophomore campaign brought the decision to play or not play back into the picture.
She persevered and was back on the court last season in a reserve role. Now as a senior, Scotti is reaping the rewards during a breakout campaign in what could possibly be the final season of her hoops career.
“There was definitely a time where it was like, ‘Wow. I don’t know if I want to play basketball after doing this recovery,’” Scotti said. “It gives me a lot of perspective on just having gratitude that I’m able to move, able to go to practice, able to see my friends. It’s definitely been rewarding just physically being able to move around again, getting back to myself has been awesome.”
DeSales senior Olivia Scotti is averaging 9.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg. (Photo: Stephanie Graffin/DeSales Athletics)
Scotti’s a 5-10 forward for DeSales averaging 9.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg, which rank third and first on the Bulldogs, respectively. She has started all 19 games for No. 20 DeSales, averaging 30.2 minutes per game during the team’s 17-2 start and a perfect 8-0 start in the MAC Freedom after handling Arcadia on Saturday.
Scotti had 15 points, eight rebounds and three steals in the win. Bulldogs’ 34th-year head coach Fred Richter said it’s hard to take her off the floor in her first season as a starter.
“We don’t sub for her,” Richter said. “We have a freshman and a sophomore who can’t do what she does and the coach has decided that she’s going to play the major minutes because he likes to have players on the floor who know the system and play the system.”
“This year from Day 1, she’s been our starting 4, making those threes, getting better on the glass. … I’m just pleased to have her on our team, and pleased to see her get through all that stuff. Resilience is something she brought with her and it’s really paying off for her, but it’s paying off for us.”
Scotti was a big part of a Neshaminy team that went to the District 1-6A championship game and PIAA semifinals in 2019, playing the role of facilitator with future Villanova and Drexel standout Brooke Mullin and Kirstin Curley. She was a first team all-league selection alongside Curley during her senior campaign in 2020.
When she arrived on campus at DeSales she carved out a role immediately, averaging 4.3 ppg and 4.0 rpg in 16.2 mpg off the bench during a 9-0 COVID-shortened season. Then came the ACL injury in the summer before her sophomore campaign.
It was a year-long recovery process that also included a second surgery five months into to clear scar tissue.
“I’ve never had any major injuries before,” Scotti said. “The recovery process was long. As much as it was physically hard, it was really mentally hard as well. The recovery process took a year and a half. I had to get a second surgery like five months in. The recovery process was hard but my team was right there behind me just to support me on and off the court.”
DeSales senior Olivia Scotti plays with a brace on her leg last season. (Photo: Stephanie Graffin/DeSales Athletics)
Scotti returned to the court last year and said she felt about 60 to 70 percent herself by the start of the season, a big bulky knee brace slowing her when she first got back on the floor. The mobility wasn’t quite there, but she averaged 4.2 ppg and 3.6 rpg in 15.6 mpg coming off the bench to spell Mikaela Reese and Abigail Rafferty in the front court.
“Liv’s like the heart of the team because when we talk about resilience and all those things, we look at Liv,” Richter said. “Liv took a full year off, which they wanted her to do, no second guesses on her part or ours and came back ready to play. I’ve never seen anybody work as hard as she did when she got the green light.”
Scotti started to feel closer to 100 percent this preseason. Her parents, Eileen and Tom, have noticed some extra zip to her movement on the court that wasn’t quite back last season. Scotti has slid into the starting frontcourt alongside Reese, who joined the 1,000-point club and became the program’s all-time blocks leader this season.
She is on a tear as of late, reaching double figures in her last nine games, including two double-doubles. Scotti scored in double figures just three times last year.
“I was kind of like I’m just going to go out and have fun and the game will come to me,” Scotti said of her approach this offseason. “And if that’s what it’s gonna be (becoming a starter), that’s what it’s gonna be, and if it’s not then that’s fine as well, I’m still going to work hard and do my thing.”
DeSales has won the MAC Freedom championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons.
There are still six regular season games to go, but the Bulldogs look poised for another postseason run again this season as they’ve won 10 in a row since a Dec. 19 overtime loss to Scranton.
“Our goals, we actually just kind of talked about this just coming in every day, taking it day by day and coming into practice every day working hard pushing each other making each other better,” Scotti said. “It just starts at practice. Obviously we have those goals of a MAC championship, going nationally, but it really just starts in practice day by day and supporting each other with positivity.”
Scotti could possibly return to DeSales next season. She still has a year of eligibility remaining. She’s a sports management major who interned in Lehigh University’s ticket sales office this summer. She could decide to begin to carve out a career in the sports world if she chooses.
“She’s got a head for sports and she understands athletes, she certainly understands coaches,” Richter said. “I just think she’s made for whatever administrative or coaching position that comes up and then she learns what she likes best and moves on.”
Whatever decision Scotti makes this offseason, she’s happy she decided to choose to keep playing basketball as long as she did.
“I cannot replicate this team,” Scotti said. “I never will. They’re the best group of girls.”