Allentown basketball players hoping for chance to play 2021 season

Allentown High School girls basketball player Kayla McCrea surveys the court on the wing during a game played last season against Monroe High School in Allentown.

Editor’s note: Allentown High School was forced to close on Jan. 21 because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the school. In-person instruction is scheduled to resume on Feb. 3. All current winter sports are on pause until that date. This article was written as the outbreak occurred.

The players on the Allentown High School girls basketball team waited with all of the other high school basketball players in the state during the fall to see what New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association administrators would choose to do with the 2020-21 season in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

NJSIAA administrators eventually decided to allow teams to play an abbreviated season beginning in January, instead of the traditional start after Thanksgiving. Basketball teams hit the court on Jan. 11.

Allentown girls basketball coach Dana Wells smiled as she watched her players take the court for the first time; happy for some normalcy during a turbulent time.

“We were waiting for (the season) to be canceled, but thankfully we were able to start on Jan. 11,” Wells said. “It was very exciting to be back in the gym. The girls were really excited to be back out there. Their excitement and enthusiasm to play was great to see.”

Practices have been different due to the virus. Players are spaced 6 feet apart and each player uses her own ball during drills. Each player wears a mask during the individual drills. The ball that is used during scrimmages is sanitized regularly.

Wells said the new way of doing things has not phased her players.

“Bottom line, our girls know what they have to do to play. We are all in this together,” she said.

In 2021, Allentown will have a roster filled mostly with underclassmen. Junior Brianna Schweitzer and sophomore Kayla McCrea return to the starting lineup.

Schweitzer was the team’s second leading scorer a year ago and she connected on 56 three-point field goals. McCrea led the team in assists (73) as a full-time starter in what was a banner campaign.

Allentown took a hit during the off-season as last year’s leading scorer Maddie McCrea went down with an injury and is out for the season.

Wells expects Schweitzer and Kayla McCrea to step up as leaders and has seen each player serve as a role model to the team’s newcomers.

“I have seen positive things from our leaders. Being a Redbird is about leading with your heart and being a good teammate,” the coach said.

Sophomore Caitlin Landgraf is one of the players who will be asked to help fill Maddie McCrea’s shoes in the frontcourt. Wells believes Landgraf is capable of big things under the basket.

Freshman Miranda Ricciardi will be another option in the frontcourt. Alexa Cruz, Sydney Townsend, Chloe Conti and Bella Conti are freshmen Wells said could make an impact.

Junior Emily Pellegrino is a newcomer to the varsity and is expected to play a key role in the backcourt, Wells said.

“This is a talented group of kids. The team chemistry is there. They are happy to be back on the court. We want to teach these kids to do things the right way and help them grow,” she said.

Teams will be permitted to play a maximum of 15 games this season and there will not be a state tournament. Allentown will only play teams from its own Colonial Valley Conference.

Wells knows that any game her team gets to play this season will be a bonus and that she  and her players need to treat every day they spend together like it might be their last one as a squad.

Playing hard, playing smart and playing together are the three things Wells stresses to her players, as well as taking things one day at a time.

“These girls have had so much taken from them and we want to compete and play in every game if possible. The memories we make this season during the pandemic will last forever,” the Redbirds’ coach said.