Natalie Landi last went to the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River for a high school basketball game in March 2008.
She cheered on her older sister, Amanda, and the Ocean City High School girls basketball team as they competed for a state Group III championship. Amanda was the Red Raiders' 5-foot-11 senior center.
Their roles will reverse today. Natalie, also 5-11, is a senior starting forward for the 2012-13 Red Raiders. Ocean City (25-4) plays Jefferson Township (23-7) in the state Group III final at 2 p.m. at the Pine Belt Arena.
Amanda, a 22-year-old who graduated from Penn State University in May, now lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She hopes to make the nearly five-hour drive down to watch the game.
"I remember watching her," Natalie, who is 18, said. "Who I am as a player has come from her a lot."
Amanda was a member of one of just two Ocean City teams to reach the state final. The Red Raiders lost to national power Shabazz in 2008.
The other appearance was in 1979. The Red Raiders have never won a state title.
She vividly recalls showing up to the gym that day. The atmosphere of state championship games is like no other.
"I remember it being so loud and so crazy that you couldn't even hear your teammates on the court," Amanda said. "But it was absolutely amazing."
The sisters have a lot in common. They play a similar style of basketball. Neither is known for putting a ton of points on the board, but both filled vital roles to help their teams succeed.
Natalie has been a tremendous defender and rebounder throughout Ocean City's playoff run. The Red Raiders do not have an explosive offense, which makes her contributions even more critical.
The Landis are similar off the court, as well. Like her sister, Natalie will attend Penn State where she plans to major in engineering with textiles for fashion merchandising. She is uncertain whether or not she'll try to make the women's basketball team as a walk-on.
Visiting Amanda on campus helped sell Natalie on Penn State.
"I swear I'm not a total copycat," Natalie said jokingly. "I've been out to visit. You just get that feeling. It's such a great community."
Amanda has been a big supporter of her little sister, too. She flew to Florida after Christmas to watch Ocean City play in the KSA Holiday Tournament in Walt Disney World.
She has some advice for Natalie on how to approach the biggest basketball game of her career.
"Focus on the task at hand. Having been there, it's easy to get swept away by everything that's going on around you," Amanda said. "You have to regroup and work together with your team."
This is the last of nine seasons with the Ocean City girls basketball program for the Landi family. Nine years makes for countless games, practices, fundraisers and parties.
Few families see two children play in two different state championships. The subject has been a frequent topic of conversation at the Landi family's Ocean City home.
"What a great curtain call," said the girls' mother, Kathy. "We have been blessed to be surrounded by great players, coaches and parents. What an awesome time we have had."
Ocean City has one of the strongest followings for a local girls basketball team. The Red Raiders' state semifinal game against Freehold Boro felt like a home game, even though it was played an hour away at Williamstown High School.
The 2008 state championship game was no different.
"It was such a big deal at the time," Amanda said. "People I didn't even know went to the school were there. That really spoke a lot about Ocean City as a whole. Everyone came up to rally and support us in such a big important part of our lives."
Expect today's crowd to be just as enthusiastic. The Red Raiders are one win away from making history.
Ocean City has become a perennial South Jersey Group III power. The Red Raiders have won four titles in the last six seasons.
"I was there for (Amanda's) whole ride when I was just a girl, and I can't believe I'm going to be in this spot," Natalie said.
If all goes well, the Landi family will celebrate nine years of Ocean City basketball with a state Group III championship.
Contact Brittany Grugan:
State Group III girls title game
Who: Ocean City (25-4) vs. Jefferson Township (23-7)
Where/when: 2 p.m. today at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River
Tickets: $5 adults and $3 students and senior citizens.
Radio: 98.7 FM
Online: Updates at www.HSLive.me