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Third Year Thriller: Christina Dalce Returns as a Leader for the ‘Cats

Ryan Sarbello/Villanovan Photography
Christina Dalce enters Hoops Mania with a dance choreographed to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

As if her choreographed entrance dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at this year’s Hoops Mania didn’t speak to the point, junior forward Christina Dalce is bringing all the energy to a new year of Villanova basketball.

Dalce, a forward from Edison, N.J., knows that her role on the 2023–2024 Wildcats transcends routine offense and defense. She excelled in those areas as a starter last season, leading the team in offensive rebounds and setting a school record with 86 blocked shots.

Team USA took notice of Dalce’s performance, as she was invited to represent Team USA in the U21 3×3 Nations League, along with fellow Wildcat Lucy Olsen. The team competed in Canada, China and Mongolia, going 6–0 and claiming Team USA’s first ever U21 3×3 Nations League Final title in September.

Before a limited international audience, Dalce and Olsen were self-motivated by the opportunity to represent Team USA. They built a bond throughout the summer with their teammates, even including a Big East rival, Creighton’s Morgan Maly.

“It was an exciting experience for sure,” Dalce said. “But our fans were literally our own team of four people, while three of them were playing. By the time Mongolia came, we were gelling and playing so well together, even having a friendship off the court.”

Aside from her reliable presence on the court, Dalce understands that the energy and experience she brings to the team as an upperclassman can push Villanova to another NCAA tournament run. Without star forward Maddy Siegrist, Dalce will be one of many with a larger role this season.

“Mentality-wise, I know that as each year goes on, there’s going to be more and more people looking up to me,” Dalce said. “I can’t beat myself up because I know that other people are watching me to figure out what they should do when something bad happens. So I always try to stay positive and encourage the younger underclassmen.”

Dalce’s enthusiasm for team camaraderie and her efforts to give the rookie Wildcats a sense of inclusion and support comes from personal experience. 

During her first season as a Wildcat, both serious illness and injury prevented Dalce from having the college debut she wanted. She appeared in just 13 games that season with 68 total minutes, averaging slightly over five minutes per game.

“My first two years at Villanova were a 180-degree turn for me,” Dalce said. “I went from not playing at all to starting every game and having high expectations.”

Dalce credits her teammates for encouraging her and pushing her on the court as she navigated the challenges of her freshman year. Dalce came back from the sidelines her sophomore season playing to her strengths, with strong performances in the paint.   Dalce’s play earned her the Philadelphia Big 5 Most Improved Player award for the 2022–2023 season. 

“Just [the team’s] way of constantly encouraging me, keeping me in the loop, joking with me, laughing with me, and creating all these great memories definitely helped me move past those problems at the time,” Dalce said. 

While the enthusiasm and talent Dalce brings to Villanova women’s basketball are palpable, she says that fostering a sense of community contributes to her ability to thrive on the basketball court. 

This sense of community starts for Dalce the second she steps foot on the court, as her first task before every game is finding her family in the crowd. 

“If anybody tells me that they’re coming to my game, I usually look for them,” Dalce said. “I feel like I do that every time, not even realizing that I’m doing it. It’s just a great feeling having them see me in my element.” 

Growing up less than two hours away from Villanova in Edison, Dalce describes the support she received from her family as central to the development of her early basketball career. 

Although Dalce was raised watching March Madness, she only began playing basketball competitively in middle school. She remembers joining her sixth-grade team having barely touched a basketball. 

“It was a very humbling experience,” Dalce said. “I was so bad that my coaches separated me from the group and made me do bounce passes and chest passes against the wall just to learn how to catch. We ended up losing every game and I cried after that.” 

Seeing her growing passion for the game and potential to improve, Dalce’s mother encouraged her to take basketball more seriously after that first disastrous season. While her two older sisters danced and played instruments, basketball became Dalce’s specialty. 

The summer of eighth grade, Dalce began training for hours every day to expedite her development as a player. Soon, she became competitive enough to join multiple travel leagues in addition to her middle and high school teams, eventually playing on a team in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL).

Along with playing in multiple competitive leagues, Dalce also made the decision to transfer to a different high school, another step in her path to Villanova. Dalce signed with the Wildcats during her senior year at Rutgers Prep, where she competed on both the basketball and cross-country teams.

Dalce prides herself on being a spirited member of the ‘Nova Nation, expressing her support for all athletes on campus. She is an active participant in Special Olympics Pennsylvania and even volunteered at an event in September immediately after returning from Mongolia.

“The day I flew back and touched down on ‘Nova’s campus was the day that I helped with Special Olympics,” Dalce said. “I really loved it.”

Another campus organization meaningful to Dalce is 13Percent, which represents Villanova’s black student-athletes. Dalce is an Executive Board member.

“I’ve tried to make sure that I know at least one person on every sports team,” Dalce said. “Every athlete on this campus is so important because we’re all representing ‘Nova, and every time they win a game, they deserve all the glory as much as basketball.” 

After last year’s Sweet Sixteen run, Dalce hopes for the women’s basketball team to receive increased recognition and support from the student body in upcoming games.

“I want to see the student section at our games almost, if not similar to, what the men’s student section is,” Dalce said.

While Dalce is looking to work for a sports team after college and pursue a career related to her major in Marketing Analytics and minor in Communication, she hasn’t completely disregarded the possibility of continuing to play basketball professionally.

After her dramatic transformation between her freshman and sophomore campaigns, Dalce brings a summer of international competition with her into her third season with the Wildcats and is determined to continue improving upon the Wildcats’ second place finish in the Big East last year.

“Last year, I was definitely way more nervous,” Dalce said. “But after such good support last year, it’s just more about embracing that and having fun because everybody you know is rooting for you.”

Dalce’s vision for the upcoming season extends beyond her solo performance as she is even more focused on her role in building up the team as a whole. Entrance music notwithstanding, Dalce’s junior season is certain to be a thriller.

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Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis, Co-Sports Editor
Katie Lewis is a sophomore from Miami, FL in her first year as Co-Sports Editor in 2024. From covering games to writing features and profiles, she loves to find the story behind Villanova sports. Pursuing her enthusiasm for writing and journalism in her studies at Villanova, Katie is double-majoring in English and Communication with concentrations in Journalism and Writing & Rhetoric. When Katie isn’t at Holy Grounds working on her next article, she enjoys playing tennis with Villanova’s club team.
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