Gianna Lucchesi is going to play Division I soccer at Richmond University and she is 12 goals shy of 100 in lacrosse. She is a star in both sports at the Pennington School; while in basketball she is one of those unsung role players who just goes out and does what’s needed.
Some kids may not like giving up the spotlight in one sport when it shines directly on them in two others.
“To her credit, we’ve never had any issue like that with her,” Red Raiders’ hoops coach Jeff Eckerson said. “We were pretty successful last year and she was a big part of that; but more behind the scenes and she’s never complained. She’s willing to play that role.”
It’s not hard to see why. Lucchesi was the MVP of her 7th and 8th grade CYO basketball teams and the overall MVP in 8th grade. She played for her mom, Robyn, who is in the CYO Hall of Fame as a player/coach and excelled for McCorristin (now Trenton Catholic) and Trenton State College (now College of New Jersey). She still loves the sport.
“Basketball has always been a huge part of me,” Lucchesi said. “Letting that go to pursue soccer in college is definitely going to be a struggle for me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t play pick-up or watch games. I love all the girls on my (Pennington) team and they just make playing basketball worth it. I never had a thought to quit. Just because I’m playing soccer at college doesn’t mean I can’t do all three sports. Each contribute to the athlete I am today. It all works out in the end.”
As a soccer defender, Lucchesi was offensive-minded enough to tally 10 goals and four assists during her career. The Hamilton Square resident, whose brother Frank Jr. plays football for NCAA Division III playoff qualifier Muhlenberg, has won countless soccer awards throughout her career. This year she was All-Prep, All-State, made the Mercer 33 team and was selected to play in the High School All-American game in Orlando Dec. 1.
“In four years, Gianna made a massive impact on the girls soccer program,” said coach Patrick Murphy, who also had Lucchesi in the Olympic Developmental Program when she was younger. “From freshman year on, Gi was an impact player who played nearly every position there is to play, including goalkeeper. Gi’s impact on the girls soccer program is not limited to her soccer abilities and her athletic prowess.”
Murphy noted that when she missed three weeks due to injury, she was constantly pushing “her girls” to perform at peak ability from the sidelines. He pointed to a win over McDonogh School of Maryland, ranked No. 3 nationally, in which the Raiders rallied from a 3-1 deficit.
“Gi is a strong, assertive personality,” Murphy continued. “Against McDonogh, there was Gi, having plenty of discomfort in her knee, on the bench with the subs cheering strongly in a cold and heavy rain on a soaked grass field. That Gi was willing her team to take on the challenge of facing McDonogh without her, and that says a lot about her.”
As does the fact she has a 3.9 GPA in a tough academic environment, while being able to play three sports, serve as a Senior Student Ambassador, be a member of the Art Club and volunteer for Home Front and “Score for the Cure.” Lucchesi said her ability to budget time comes from her mom and dad, Frank, who played football for Hamilton West and was named the Delaware Valley football chapter’s Distinguished American several years ago.
“Gianna is really just a focused and driven person,” said Eckerson, who has also taught Lucchesi in the classroom. “Her schedule is very regimented, and she manages it extremely well. Sometimes I kid around with kids and say, ‘Are you gonna grab life and make life what you want it; or are you gonna let life happen to you?’ She’s definitely one making a path for herself with purpose and intensity.”
That intensity will be on full display during basketball season. Despite losing 1,000-point scorer Carly Rice, the Red Raiders feel they can make a run to a second consecutive Prep A title and a second straight trip to the Mercer County Tournament finals, which they lost to Trenton Catholic last year.
Lucchesi will be making an impact, one way or the other.
“We rely on her particularly for our defense,” Eckerson said. “She’s a defender in soccer and she just kind of has that mentality. She understands defensive angles and she’s not afraid of the contact and the physicality of the game. She’s a very good defender. But she can also score when we need her to.”
She can indeed, do a little bit of everything. Last year Lucchesi averaged 5.7 points, 2.8 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals.
“She is certainly a very versatile as a player,” Eckerson said. “We had scorers in the past and she hasn’t really had to do that for us, but we may rely on her to a do a little bit more of that this year. She’s certainly capable of being more of a contributor offensively.”
Lucchesi normally plays on the wing but could be a power forward if need be, as contact doesn’t bother her. Even in practice.
“We were doing lay-ups and (assistant) coach (Holly) Jones said, ‘Gi don’t run through me,’” Lucchesi said. “I have a tendency to run so hard that I don’t know how fast I’m running and I hit people and I’m like ‘I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to hit you that hard.” I’m unaware of my strength at times. But that’s just me giving my all in sports.”
It’s a quality that Murphy and Eckerson absolutely love. Not just because she does it in sports, but in life.
“Gianna is self-driven, in and out of the classroom,” Murphy said “She will butt heads with anyone standing in her way and I mean that in the best of ways She is always on a mission and enjoys her busy, productive lifestyle.”
A lifestyle that revolves greatly around athletics.
“The big thing I really admire is her commitment to play the three sports,” Eckerson said. “You don’t see that very much anymore with kids specializing. There are three or four days of basketball and then she goes off to soccer. Her ability to manage the academic rigor continues with her commitment to play three sports. Most kids would have played soccer since that’s there college sport, and that would be it.”
Lucchesi, who began rec lacrosse in 7th grade in Robbinsville, feels each sport feeds into the other.
“Lacrosse is a lot of pivoting and finding seams to get your pass, and I definitely see that in basketball,” she said. “Playing defensive center mid in soccer, you have to move off the ball so much. In basketball, the only way to get open is setting screens. You can’t rely on outside shots, so I have to be moving and running a lot. And the amount of running in both sports factors into basketball.”
All three of them factor into her 3.9 GPA—which aggravates her to a certain extent because she is .1 away from perfection.
“Sports motivates me to do well in school because it’s not school, school, school all the time,” she said. “I value my academics so much, but having that peace to let my mind go and do something I love and be the person I am it definitely comes through sports. And sports pushes me to do well in my academics, which is something I haven’t found in a lot of other things. It just molds me into the person I am.”
That person will be heading for Virginia next year. After wading through numerous offers, she cut it down to eight schools and finally decided on Richmond because head coach Marty Beall reminded her of Murphy and co-soccer coach Bill Hawkey.
“He doesn’t want us calling him Coach Beall, he says, ‘Call me Marty,’” Lucchesi said. “He really values that friendship with his players. That’s something I have at Pennington with Murph and Hawk. They’re my coaches but they’re my friends too and I can go to both of them for anything. As soon as I set foot on Richmond’s campus, I felt like I was at Pennington. Pennington is a place I don’t want to leave because of how many friendships I’ve made, both teachers and students. Having those qualities in Richmond that I saw in Pennington really helped make the decision for me.”
Lucchesi may have found her next Pennington, but it might be a little tougher for Pennington find its next Lucchesi.