Senior Spotlight: Julia Rifici keeps family tradition going with outstanding athletic career at Holy SpiritBy DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Given Julia Rifici’s bloodline, it’s not surprising she turned out to be a pretty good athlete at Holy Spirit High School. Her brother, Albert, played football at Absegami, and another brother, Franco, was a star for the Spartans before moving on to Rowan University.
Rifici never made any all-South Jersey teams, but she thoroughly enjoyed her time at Holy Spirit, she said, and by the time her final two years of high school rolled around she was an integral part of both the Spartans’ basketball and softball teams. In basketball, she helped lead Spirit to 19 wins and a berth in the Cape-Atlantic League semifinals as well as the state playoffs. She was a key player off the bench and could come in at either a guard or forward position to give valuable minutes to head coach Dennis Smith’s team.
“I thought my career went really well. In basketball, I knew I wasn’t going to get a lot of playing time because we had players like Summer (Crilley), Cass (Gallagher) and Natalie (Niederhofer). In softball, when I was a freshman, a couple of girls got injured so I had to step up and play a bigger role. It was a little bit scary, but everyone was welcoming and we were like a family,” Rifici said. “When I got into (basketball) games, I just tried to do whatever I could, get stops on defense. I liked playing defense much more than offense. I liked going for the steal and trying to get a breakaway.”
As a catcher and infielder for the softball team, she played an important role in a rebuilding process that is still underway. She capped off her career in dramatic fashion, too, smashing her first home run in her final game, a 4-1 loss to Our Lady of Mercy Academy.
“I never in my life had hit a home run, but in the last game of the season this year — my entire family was there cheering — I kept fouling pitches off and then finally got a pitch to hit and I hit a home run, over the fence. That was my last game, so it was nice to go out with a bang,” she said.
Rifici’s high school athletic career will ultimately be defined by her energy, enthusiasm and willingness to do whatever she could to help her teams be successful. She also was a big part of student life at the school and supported all the other sports teams, rarely missing a Friday night football game and routinely showing up to soccer, boys basketball and baseball games, and wrestling matches, whenever her schedule allowed.
“We had a lot of school spirit. If I didn’t have a game I was probably at Holy Spirit watching another sports team play,” Rifici said. “Holy Spirit was so fun, and I’m sad that my high school career is over, but I’m ready for the next chapter.”
Since her father, Franco Sr., lives in Galloway, Rifici had the option of attending Absegami, but ultimately chose to follow Franco Jr.’s footsteps at Spirit.
“My dad lives in Galloway, so I had to decide between Absegami and Holy Spirit. I had one brother at Absegami and another brother at Spirit, so it was kind of a hard choice,” she said.
At either school she would have been successful because she comes from such an athletic family. Her dad and mother, Kelly, and brothers were always getting her involved in pick-up games at home while she was growing up, she said, and competing against the boys gave her a competitive edge when she reached high school.
“It was fun. I got teased a lot, so I had to learn how to be strong. I think it also made me more aggressive,” Rifici said. “For all my sports ability, I give the credit to my parents and my brothers. Whenever they needed another person they had me out there, or my dad would always say, ‘hey, let’s go hit.’ So I give them a lot of credit.”
Rifici, who plans to attend Monmouth University this fall to study mathematics and business, said she’s really going to miss the Friday night atmosphere of high school football.
“I’m a huge football fan, so some of my best memories are of football, them getting to states, just being together with everybody at homecoming and all the Thanksgiving games,” Rifici said. “It’s a huge family here. I know when I go off to college Holy Spirit will always be there for me, and if I ever need anything I can always go back to them.”
Rifici could almost always been seen with a smile on her face around campus, so it’s no surprise she didn’t get overly emotional at the end of her high school career.
“I’ll miss the atmosphere the most, how everyone was so close. And, of course, the football games. I didn’t cry at graduation or my last games for basketball or softball. I think it hasn’t really hit me yet,” she said. “I think it will hit me in a few months when I’m up at Monmouth and missing home. High school did go by really quickly. I feel old now.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays