Some athletes play for the future.
Celeste O’Neill is playing for the right now.
O’Neill is a senior forward on the Little Flower High School basketball team, and she’s been playing the sport since she was 4. Barring a big change in plans, this year will be her final year playing organized basketball.
“I looked around and thought about going the small school route, but then I went to Penn State in the summer for a visit and I loved it,” the Lawncrest resident said.
“When I decided to go there, it’s Division I, so I decided I wouldn’t be playing sports there. This is it. I’ll probably play intramurals or something because I don’t want to give it up completely, but in playing for school, this is it.”
If O’Neill is going out, she wants to go out on a good note. And while Catholic League basketball is always tough, this might be the Sentinels’ best chance at having a strong season during O’Neill’s career.
Little Flower has five seniors, including four starters, contributing, so there is plenty of experience to go around. The Sentinels also have all the intangibles teams need to succeed. It won’t be easy because the Catholic League is as good as ever, but O’Neill is more than confident her team can hang with the superstars.
“So far, we’re playing better than we have any year,” the starting small forward said. “I think we are more connected this year. We’re all playing for the same thing. I think it helps that we’re all seniors and we know this is it for us. This is our last chance to play together, so we want to do as best as we can.”
O’Neill is ready to do her part.
Though she stands 5 feet 8, O’Neill knows her role will be to mix it up with the other team’s bigger players and battle for rebounds. She’ll also be called upon to mark players who are far bigger than her.
“When we play teams like O’Hara or (Neumann-Goretti), they have players who are a lot bigger,” O’Neill said. “My secret? I don’t have one, I guess try my hardest.
“I’m not a huge scorer, I’m more of a rebounder and a defender. I know what I have to do out there, and I like doing that.”
Effort has been O’Neill’s calling card in basketball. She also works hard in her other two sports, soccer during the fall and softball during the spring.
Basketball is her favorite sport, but she’s been happy representing Little Flower during all three seasons.
“We had a good soccer season this year,” O’Neill said. “We started off really slow, but as we got more connected, we started to play better. It ended too early in the playoffs, but other than that, it was a really good year.
“Softball was good last year, we had a new coach so we were learning a lot. We had a really good, young team, and I think we can be good this year. It’s good that all of my teams are good for my senior season.”
O’Neill has been responsible for drawing a lot of fans to Sentinels’ athletics.
Sure, people come to watch her star on the soccer field, pull down rebounds in the gym and smack hits in softball, but she’s also had a huge hand in sending classmates to other sports.
This year, to get people to head to the games, the school started a club and O’Neill is an athletic rep.
“We just tell people about what’s going on in games, tell them who is winning and do things to get people to come to games,” said O’Neill, who is also in the Celtic Club and on the Quizzo team at the school. “We sent a bus to Widener University so people could watch the swim team compete. During soccer, we had a game where we gave out water ice and pretzels. In basketball, I’m not sure, but I think we’re doing a movie night on one of our Friday games where people can come to the game and then watch a movie.
“I haven’t been able to do it, I missed the swim meet because I think I had a game or practice. But more people do go to games. That’s our goal, to get more people out.”
O’Neill has goals beyond Little Flower as well.
Next year, while at State College, O’Neill plans on majoring in psychology, and someday she hopes to work with children.
“I thought about going into education, but I want to get into counseling and help that way,” said O’Neill, who ranks 22nd in her senior class. “I love working with kids, and I think that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
She also wants to leave a lasting memory of her senior year on the hardwood.
“I think this is our best year, we have so many seniors who want to win and we’re very connected,” O’Neill said. “I’m really happy about Penn State, my mom went there, but I’ll miss playing basketball. I want to have the best year I can.” ••