On Her Own, Novacek Continues Family's Athletic Success
Feb. 4, 2008
By Todd Merriett, Bucknell Athletic Communications
More than a decade ago, veteran NFL tight end Jay Novacek caught five passes for 50 yards and one touchdown in the Dallas Cowboys' 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. It was the last game of his 11-year career that featured 422 receptions and more than 4,000 receiving yards.
Just months before that 1996 Super Bowl, Jay's brother, Jim, moved his family to the Steel City. At the time it was unknown that the Novacek name would once again appear in Pittsburgh-area sports pages, only this time not as an enemy.
Young twin sisters Joyce and Becky, two of Jim's four daughters, were the Novaceks whose names would grace the papers in the mid-2000s for their exploits on the basketball and volleyball courts.
Behind the backing of their athletic father, who was a football player and All-America pole vaulter at Rose-Hulman Technical Institute, both Joyce and Becky had a hand in a number of sports from the time they were young enough to remember. Joyce ended up focusing on basketball and track and field, while Becky was a standout volleyball, basketball and track and field athlete.
The key figures in a group of teammates that played basketball together from fourth grade through high school, Joyce and Becky led their Hopewell High School team to unprecedented success, helping the squad to back-to-back state championships and a four-year mark of 98-18, including 61-5 the last two seasons. Along the way, each earned a bushel of individual accolades, with Joyce copping honors as the Western Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Athletic League Player of the Year. She was also a first-team all-state selection twice.
"It (winning consecutive state titles) was really exciting, especially doing it with my twin sister," recalls a smiling Joyce.
While the pair spent much of their childhood sharing a bedroom, they decided to split up when choosing both colleges and sports. Becky headed west from their Aliquippa, Pa., home to Dayton to play volleyball. Joyce went east to play basketball at Bucknell.
"I miss playing basketball with Becky, but I am proud of her for going to Dayton," says Joyce. "It's hard being apart, but with communication the way it is now we talk every day."
Becky had a successful freshman season at Dayton, which spent much of the fall nationally ranked. The Flyers went 33-2 and lost to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The 6-2 middle blocker appeared in 28 games and totaled 14 kills and 13 blocks.
Joyce is having an impact on Bucknell as well. Through the first 21 games of the season, the 6-2 forward was averaging 2.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per contest. She was connecting on nearly 50.0 percent of her field goals and ranked second on the team with nine blocks, including a season-high three in one of her best games of the season against George Mason when she totaled six points and six rebounds in 26 minutes before fouling out. That game was trumped this past weekend when she made her first career start and tallied career highs in points (7) and rebounds (13). In fact, it was the most rebounds by a Bison freshman in nearly nine years.
"Playing basketball in college is a whole new level," Novacek comments. "There is a big difference between high school and college, but my teammates have helped me adjust."
One of five freshmen on the Bison roster, and one of just two who have seen regular playing time, Novacek has been tutored by fellow post player and reigning Patriot League Player of the Year Hope Foster. The two are lifting partners and have plenty of hard-fought battles during daily practices.
"I am thankful I get to play with Hope," Novacek mentions. "It will really help me in the long run. I get to practice against really good defense and that can only help me improve. In high school Becky and I would often be on the same team, so the people defending us would be junior varsity players and they didn't offer much competition."
Perhaps that lack of competition every day in practice hurt Novacek early in her rookie campaign at Bucknell. She often got into foul trouble, averaging a foul every three-and-one-half minutes over the season's first 10 games. However, the work with Foster and the Bison coaching staff helped her cut those fouls down to one every seven minutes the next six games, including three physical Patriot League contests.
The improvement has come at the same time Novacek's parents have been able to see her play in person. During the fall, Julie and Jim would often make the four-hour drive to Dayton to watch Becky. But, with the conclusion of her rookie season, they have had more time to watch Joyce. Jim made the trip to Buffalo shortly after the calendar flipped to January, while Julie visited some family members in the Capital Region when the team played at Navy and American to open the Patriot League slate. Most recently, both parents, as well as Novacek's boyfriend and his family, ventured to Sojka Pavilion for a nationally televised game with Holy Cross.
The ability of her family to come watch her play was one of many advantages in Bucknell's column for Novacek when choosing which college to attend. She had also considered fellow Patriot League school Lehigh, Marist and Penn.
"Bucknell started recruiting me early and I really like the academic reputation and the basketball program," remembers Novacek, who chose Bucknell seven months after Becky had committed to play volleyball at Dayton.
As the Patriot League schedule gets into full swing toward the end of January and into February, Novacek has her sights set on helping the team improve.
"I just want to contribute to the team in any way I can and improve my skills and abilities," says Novacek about her goals for the rest of her freshman campaign. "Our team has high goals and I want to help us achieve them."
If she follows the lead of her famous uncle, Novacek should have no problem helping the Bison. After watching Jay win three Super Bowls, including one over her hometown Steelers, Joyce should have no problem coming up big should preseason favorite Bucknell advance to the Patriot League Championship Game for the first time since 2002.