The Tarot card reader at Hillsborough High School's Project Graduation party pegged Ali DeLuca to the letter.
"You're a very intense person, aren't you?" she said to DeLuca, who nodded in agreement.
"You're a very competitive person, aren't you?" Another nod.
"You like to win?"
Yeah, you could say that.
Maybe the Tarot card reader saw DeLuca attacking the various activities at Project Graduation like it was Armageddon eve. She dusted a few friends in HORSE. She flung herself around in volleyball. And then there was the joust, in which two rivals try to knock each other off platforms with huge padded sticks.
"If she fell down, then she HAD to get back up and go kill whoever knocked her down," said good friend Danielle Iwanechko. "And she did."
That was par for the course for DeLuca, who led the Raiders' girls basketball and lacrosse teams to a combined record of 39-9 this year. As a point guard in hoops, she was Somerset County Tournament MVP and played in the statewide North-South All-Star game. As a midfielder in lacrosse, she tallied 118 goals and 57 assists and earned All-America status.
"She's very aggressive, has a big heart, plays with a lot of energy and a lot of pride, and obviously she's physically gifted -- she's very quick, very fast," Hillsborough girls basketball coach Jim Reese said. "But the mental part of the game -- she has a tremendous desire to win, and she approaches everything that way."
DeLuca pleads guilty to this trait.
"I feel like my competitiveness is just instinct in everything I do," she said. "I'm probably the most competitive person you'll ever meet. Sometimes it gets a little intimidating, and my friends are like, 'Oh man.' "
Iwanechko, who played lacrosse with DeLuca for five years, knows that feeling.
"We always play pingpong and she needs to win in pingpong," Iwanechko said. "Any game you play or anything you do, she has to be No. 1."
Chalk up one more No. 1 today, because DeLuca is the Courier News Female Athlete of the Year.
Bad elbow? No problem
All you need to know about Ali DeLuca is visible on her right elbow, which has been bruised and bumpy since the beginning of basketball season in December.
"I just kept banging my elbow every game, and every game it kept getting worse," she said. "Now I have a huge bump on my elbow that won't go away."
The bump doesn't hurt anymore, but it hurt like crazy during the winter. That didn't stop her from diving to the floor for loose balls. It did limit her shooting ability, but she still managed to put up 12.9 points, 5.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals per game.
"The trainer would wrap it and put a pad on it, but before warm-ups even started, I had to take it off," she explained. "I'd go over to Mr. Reese and say, 'I can't play with this,' and he said, 'We had a bet that you wouldn't last 10 minutes with that thing on.' "
It's no coincidence that once DeLuca's elbow starting feeling better, the Raiders ran off 12 straight wins, capturing the Somerset County Tournament title in the process.
Perhaps most impressive, however, was how DeLuca seamlessly juggled the demands of the long basketball season with those of an All-America lacrosse candidate.
"It takes up a lot of your time, but I'm just crazy about sports," DeLuca said. "I thought about quitting basketball and just focusing on lacrosse, but in reality, basketball kind of prepares you for lacrosse. If I played in a winter league (in lacrosse), it's still a competitive game, but it doesn't have the intensity of a high school-level game."
DeLuca played in summer leagues in both sports. She attended the team camps and did the individual work.
"Even though basketball was her second sport in terms of her future, she never acted like it was her second sport," Reese said.
Leaving her mark
Ali DeLuca picked up lacrosse in eighth grade, and in her first game, she scored three goals in a 3-0 victory.
"She barely knew what she was doing on that field, but her athletic ability took over," said Hillsborough girls lacrosse coach Beth Murrin, who coached the middle school team that year. "Instinct is totally, 100 percent on her side."
DeLuca flourished as a junior, posting 101 goals and 57 assists as the Raiders went 20-2 and won their first Somerset County Tournament title. This season she kicked it up yet another notch, finishing as the third-leading scorer in New Jersey history with 320 goals and 150 assists.
"She plays at a different speed than any other player we've gone up against," Murrin said. "She's got incredible ability to change direction and explode with power. And she works equally hard at developing both her left and her right hand. Teams that try to guard her by taking away her right end up regretting it."
DeLuca's finest moment came in the sectional semifinals against West Morris. Hillsborough trailed 11-7 with six minutes left in the game, but DeLuca scored a goal -- her seventh of the contest -- then assisted on four others to lift the Raiders to a 12-11 triumph.
"Our confidence was down a little bit and we just needed to regroup," DeLuca said. "We didn't want to leave that way."
Instead, DeLuca leaves one of the most decorated female athlete in Hillsborough history -- and with a 3.7 grade-point average to boot. She will play lacrosse at the University of Pennsylvania next year, and don't be surprised if she makes big splash there, as well.
That was in the Tarot cards, too.
Staff writer Jerry Carino can be reached at (908) 707-3247 or at email@example.com