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Quad-Cities' Female Athlete of the Year: North Scott's Grace Boffeli
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female ATHLETE OF THE YEAR | Grace Boffeli

Quad-Cities' Female Athlete of the Year: North Scott's Grace Boffeli

The bar already had been set high for Grace Boffeli's senior season.

Boffeli averaged 18 points and 10.9 rebounds per game as a junior, earning all-state and all-tournament honors while leading North Scott to a second state title. As the Lancers opened up the 2019-20 season with eyes on another state title, it was understood Boffeli had the potential to have a big final year.

"In the beginning, I thought she'd be an 18-to-20-point girl, maybe 25 periodically," North Scott head coach TJ Case said.

Boffeli didn't just meet those expectations. She shattered them.

The North Scott senior posted one of the best single seasons in Quad-City basketball history, averaging 28.6 points and 12.3 rebounds in 26 games, earning repeat first team all-state and all-tournament captain honors for the second straight year.

For comparison's sake, Rock Island graduate Brea Beal, who set the Western Big 6 all-time scoring record with 2,709 points and was a three-time Illinois Ms. Basketball, never averaged more than 25 points in a season.

Boffeli's senior season is the most dominant scoring season in Quad-City metro girls history since Davenport North's Amber Harrington averaged 35.1 points per game in the 2009-10 season.

That, along with helping lead the Lancers to a 26-0 season and a third state title in the last four years, is why Boffeli has been selected as the 2020 Quad-Cities' Female Athlete of the Year.

Boffeli is the second girl from North Scott to capture the honor, the first since Jenni Fitzgerald in 1986.

"When I look at the past season, it was an unforgettable season," Boffeli said. "It’s crazy to think there’s so many players throughout the years and not many people have been able to accomplish the things my team and I have."

Showing potential

The youngest daughter of Paul and Kathy Boffeli, Grace grew up playing soccer, flag football, volleyball and was involved in dance. Basketball became more of a focus in third grade when she joined the Little Lancers program.

Competing against her older siblings, Anna and Drew, had a big influence on Boffeli's athletic drive growing up.

"Both of them taught me toughness and to never back down and always be competitive," she said. "I think that’s shaped me and my whole basketball career."

Once she reached high school, Boffeli didn't see much varsity time in volleyball her freshman year. She did make an impact on the basketball court, averaging 6.9 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game to help the Lancers win their first state title in girls basketball.

As a sophomore, she finished third on the volleyball team in kills and second in blocks, but it was quickly becoming clear basketball was her path. She averaged 12.4 points and 8.9 points in the winter, earning second team all-state honors from the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association and third-team honors from the Iowa Girls Coaches Association.

In her junior season, she really broke out on the basketball court for the Lancers, averaging 17.7 points and 11.0 rebounds entering the postseason.

She took it to another level in the playoffs, averaging 19 points and 10.8 rebounds in five games. She had 24 points in the state title game against Marion, leading the Lancers to the state title, and earning all-tournament captain and first team all-state honors.

A new mindset

Following the 2019 state tournament, Boffeli knew that basketball needed to be her sole focus moving forward.

She decided not to play volleyball in her senior year. Instead, she spent the summer working on basketball.

That included changing AAU teams. After playing with the All Iowa Attack in Ames, Boffeli — along with teammate Presley Case — switched to Lady Martin Brothers, based out of Iowa City, changing a three-hour drive into just a one-hour trip.

Playing alongside fellow Northern Iowa commit Emerson Green and Iowa commit Sharon Goodman, Boffeli made a quick impression.

"Not only does Grace work exceptionally hard during games, she practices hard, she goes through drills hard. ... Whatever Grace does, she's going to be one of the hardest-working people out there," said Bob Long, Boffeli's coach with Lady Martin Brothers. "The last 14 months, you could see glimpses of that in games, but really see big portions of that in our summer practices, where she was looking to expand her game. She would step outside with the basketball, she'd handle the basketball. ... She's a mismatch.

"If you look at a high-level offense, she can be the girl at the top of the key or she can be the girl down on the block, depending on what the matchup is. I think she can step outside and shoot the 3 from the corner just as well to spread the floor."

Boffeli started getting more college looks and committed to UNI after receiving an offer in June. Her commitment added to a strong recruiting class for the Panthers, which consists of six in-state recruits.

"We’re extremely excited about Grace," UNI head coach Tanya Warren said. "She is extremely talented, high-motored, loves the physicality. She is extremely skilled but the thing you absolutely love and appreciate about her is she never takes possessions off and she loves the game, you can tell in how she plays."

With the college commitment taken care of, Boffeli also made a commitment to improving her conditioning for her final year at North Scott and for the next level.

"I wanted to be the first one up and down the court," Boffeli said. "I knew this was my last season and I wanted to go out with a bang, make a statement to everyone."

By changing her diet and focusing on strength and conditioning, Boffeli dropped 15 pounds.

The change in Boffeli's game was evident from the start of the season. She scored 37 points in the opener against Cedar Rapids Kennedy and didn't score fewer than 20 points in her first 10 games of the season.

"She’s always run the floor really well, but losing 10 or 15 pounds, just made her that more dominating; quicker off the dribble, quicker off the jump to rebound, she was just a nightmare for anybody that was going to guard her," coach Case said. "It’s going to pay huge dividends for her in the following years."

Boffeli averaged 30 points per game until the month of February, a run that included a career-high 45-point, 22-rebound performance against Davenport Central.

"I've coached a lot of girls. Everybody can have their night, but she was having her night every night. That's what was the craziest thing about it," Case said. "I just felt as the year went on, we didn't try to put any more pressure on her, but I think she was just gaining more and more confidence, and our girls were gaining more and more confidence in her."

As the season went on, Boffeli saw every kind of defense — box-and-one, triangle-and-two, multiple zones as well as double and triple-teams.

Nothing could stop her.

She finished the season as the state's second-leading scorer, only behind Dowling's Caitlin Clark, an Iowa signee who was this year's Miss Basketball. Boffeli was also tied for the most rebounds in the state and her 70.4% field goal percentage was third in the state.

She finished second in the state with 150 offensive rebounds and made teams pay for fouling her, with a state-high 179 made free throws and a 77.2% free throw percentage.

"Grace continued to go out there and beat people, even though she knew that was the goal, to stop her," Case said. "The thing that Grace was so good at, she understood ball rotation and guards. She would hold seals, where normally girls at that age, they let defenders get around them, but Grace would hold it. ... She also has a knack for the offensive board. We felt that if we didn't shoot well, Grace would be there to clean it up."

Even with all the extra attention, Boffeli's attitude never changed, always putting the team success before her own.

"She’s a pretty humble girl, she really is," Case said. "She doesn’t want a ton of attention brought to her, but she has a motor that burns inside of her. She has a passion for it and when the ball gets tipped, she’s ready to rock."

Biggest stage

There was a significant amount of pressure on the Lancers entering the state tournament. Ranked No. 1 all year and undefeated, the target was squarely on North Scott as it looked for its third title in the last four years.

There was also a lot of pressure on Boffeli. Unlike her junior year, when she flew somewhat under the radar, everyone in the state knew who Boffeli was entering the state tournament.

"I did feel some pressure, kind of because everyone is following the paper, the news, that’s what was expected for a while," she said. "They saw how my team was doing and what I was scoring. I saw the pressure, but I don’t think it really impacted me because I just put that aside and kept playing how I’ve always played."

Against Clear Creek-Amana, she faced double and sometimes triple teams throughout the early part of the game.

She finished with 28 points and nine rebounds.

In the semifinals against Center Point-Urbana, Boffeli was held to just 17 points by all-stater Ryley Goebel, but still pulled down 14 rebounds to help the Lancers survive with a 40-32 win, one of just four games this year North Scott won by fewer than 10 points.

In the state title game against Lewis Central, Boffeli scored 21 points and added 17 rebounds, tallying all 10 points in the fourth quarter to help the Lancers put the game away with a 49-35 win.

"The undefeated season, that was a big shock," she said. "The main goal was to get to state, but going undefeated too, that was the cherry on top. It was just the best season, playing with girls I’ve played with since third grade, a year we’ll never forget."

In three games at Wells Fargo this year, Boffeli averaged 22 points and 13.3 rebounds. In nine career games in Des Moines, she averaged 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds and, along with teammate Presley Case, never lost on the state's biggest stage.

"Wells Fargo is the best arena and I've always looked forward to playing there," Boffeli said. "It's insane. Not many people get this opportunity and we're just one of the few to have never lost."

Lasting legacy

Boffeli leaves North Scott with a lengthy list of accomplishments. Along with the three state titles, she is the school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, and holds several single-game and single-season statistical records.

Her 1,632 points rank second in MAC 5-on-5 basketball behind only Harrington. Her 975 rebounds are third most, trailing North's Antonea Stuckey and Muscatine's Jenny Noll. With Boffeli in the lineup, the Lancers were 87-11 and lost just three times in the last two seasons.

"There's nobody else in the state that is Grace Boffeli," Assumption head coach Katelyn McNamara said.

Fitzgerald — who is a member of the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame — had a big role in the Lancer program, helping transition from 6-on-6 to the five-player game and taking the Lancers to a state title game in 1986.

Boffeli has built on that legacy and created one of her own.

"I think she’ll go down as the best basketball player to ever play (at North Scott), at this point in time," Case said. "I don’t think we’re going to see another girl like her. I was talking to someone the other day and they said they think she’s a 50-year player. I think you only see a girl like that once in 50 years. That’s a good way to think about it."

Boffeli has enjoyed every minute of it.

"It just makes me smile when I look back at it and makes you feel good about yourself," she said. "I’m just thankful for the experiences I had wearing a North Scott jersey these last four years."

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