Maybe the third — and final — time will be the charm for Boca Raton’s Rachel Levy and Grace Marko.
Boca Raton’s star seniors have been key players in the Bobcats’ three state Final Four runs, making the trip up the Turnpike and across State Road 60 to the Lakeland Center each year since they were sophomores, but they have yet to come back to Palm Beach County with a championship trophy.
Levy, Marko and the Bobcats will make their third straight bid for a state title in Lakeland on Friday, when they face Orlando-Olympia in the Class 9A state semifinals in the Lakeland Center at 6 p.m.
“It would just be the icing on the top of the cake for us,” Levy said. “We both reached big, big goals this summer, committing to colleges … but we want to win something for our team and share this with the rest of our team.”
Levy, the Post’s Large Schools Player of the Year last season, told the Post then that she thought her team could take the last step in her senior season. And the way Boca Raton is playing, she could be looking prophetic by the time the weekend is over.
The Bobcats have won eight of their last 10 games, with the only two losses coming to Winter Haven, the reigning Class 7A champions, and Fort Myers. Both teams are also state semifinalists this year.
“Everyone’s really excited and hyped up in districts and regionals,” Marko said. “Everybody’s just super excited whenever we go out to play, and everyone’s been playing really good together, individually and as a team, especially. So everything’s working out right now.”
Levy, Marko and junior forward Hannah Pratt are the only Bobcats to make it to Lakeland all three seasons. Two key role players, guards Grace Alfieri and Kelsi Mingo, are both freshmen, though, and have not played in games with this much at stake.
“You can kind of hear the nerves when they talk about it,” Marko said. “But Rachel, and Hannah, and (sophomore guard Audrey Ramsey) and I have all been here, so we know what it’s like.
“All you need to do is keep them calm, stick with the game plan; they know what they’re doing. … I think maybe in the first few seconds, they’ll just get used to it, and then it’ll just be basketball from there on out.”
Although going to Lakeland for the Final Four looks like it has become almost routine for the Bobcats, Levy said it’s thrilling each time they make the trip to Lakeland.
“It’s exciting every time we get to go,” Levy said. “Coach Nhu (Nguyen) always says it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I truly believe that. Not many people get to say they had one shot at a state championship, and this is our third shot. And this is going to be the year that we win it.”