Dana Wells served as an assistant girls’ basketball coach at Allentown High School for 13 years.
Wells and her mentor, head coach Linda Weise, built the Redbirds into a strong program.
Their efforts culminated with a program best season in 2017-18.
Allentown finished 24-4, the best record in school history, reached the Mercer County Tournament semifinals and advanced to the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional championship game, losing to Ewing High School, 67-57, on March 5.
But Weise stepped down as Allentown’s coach in May, an expected decision since her daughter, Ryan Weise, Allentown’s leading scorer in 2017-18, was about to graduate.
After Weise stepped down, Wells wanted the head job, and was a natural choice to replace her mentor. The Upper Freehold Regional School District’s Board of Education approved Wells’ hiring in July.
Wells begins her first season as the Allentown head coach with a home game, on Dec. 14, against Steinert High School at 5:30 p.m. She is focused on maintaining Allentown’s high standard.
“Linda and I developed a program. We put Allentown on the map together. We were a really great duo for a lot of years,” Wells said. “But I’m also excited about the opportunity. I’m looking forward to taking Linda with us but also adding some things that I want to add to the team.”
Allentown lost three other starters in addition to Ryan Weise, so Wells has some rebuilding to do. But she also has plenty of talent back from the best team in program history, and from a junior varsity team that went 13-1 last year.
The one varsity starter returning, senior Lauren Coiante, was Allentown’s most valuable player in 2017-18. Coiante is a great all around player. Last winter, she averaged 10.6 points, 3.9 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game.
The senior is a point guard who can score, feed teammates and defend the other team’s best player.
“Lauren is just a tremendous athlete. Playing with older girls, she was always able to play right with them, even at a young age. She’s very quick and can play any position cause she can jump,” Wells said. “She has the whole package and she makes everybody around her better.”
“I expect her to step into a leadership role and lead us to a successful season,” Wells added.
Two other key varsity players, sixth man Maddie McCrea and third guard Giovanna Carotenuto, are also back for 2018-19. McCrea is a sophomore forward with a developed post game and an emerging outside shot. Carotenuto is a hustle player who can drain three pointers.
“With Maddie’s size and ability to get around players, it’s in our best interest for her to be in the post. But I want her to have the flexibility to go out and take a shot,” Wells said. “With her it will be a good combo with Lauren.”
“Giovanna is more of a role player but she can really shoot the three. This year she’ll be given the opportunity,” Wells said. “She goes out and competes. She loves basketball. As a senior and positive role model, she’ll help us keep that good energy and flow throughout the season.”
Wells also expects her JV point guard from last year, Isabella Dona, to step into a varsity role. Dona can share some of the ball handling duties with Coiante and take the pressure off Allentown’s best player.
“Isabella Dona carried the (JV) team. I’m looking for big things from her. We’ll look to her to get us going,” Wells said. “Coiante has been the point guard so I’d like to switch them on and off. Both are very good shooters.”
A host of other JV players helped spark the 13-1 season last year, and Wells expects many of them to move up as well. Forwards Erica Layman, Anya O’Keefe, Sophia Conti and Mackenzie Forman should give the Redbirds plenty of versatility.
Junior Vanessa Rodriguez, who played for Allentown as a freshman in 2016-17 but not as a sophomore, is back this year, and ready to step in as Allentown’s third guard.
“She’s another great athlete who works hard and will have positive contributions on defense and offense,” Wells said.
Going into 2018-19, the first season since Weise stepped down, Allentown has a coach who helped build the program (Wells), a player who was the team’s MVP during its best season ever (Coiante), a couple other key varsity returners (McCrea and Carotenuto) and a JV MVP (Dona) ready to take a step up.
It’s a strong foundation that should maintain Weise’s, and the Redbirds’, high standard.
“This group will challenge one another. Having the versatility and open roster will allow us to see how much heart these kids have and how much they want to put out there each day. It might be a different kid each night,” Wells said. “My biggest thing is get comfortable together, trust each other and just go out and play ball. I expect us to be competitive this year. Getting to the Mercer County Tournament at CURE Insurance Arena (in Trenton) is obviously always a goal.”