Allentown High School always seems to play its biggest girls’ basketball games against Ewing High School.
Last winter in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament championship game, Allentown lost to Ewing, 67-57. The defeat ended the best season in Redbirds’ history when the team posted a 24-4 record.
This winter on Jan. 4, Allentown fell to its Colonial Valley Conference rival, 62-61, in overtime. Redbirds’ coach Dana Wells and her players were pleased with their effort, though, against Ewing, which had won two straight state sectional championships. They viewed that game against Ewing as a turning point in their season.hip
They must have been right, too. About two months later, the Redbirds finally beat the Blue Devils in a big game. On Feb. 28 in the Central Jersey, Group 3 quarterfinals, seventh-seeded Allentown upset second-seeded Ewing on its home floor, 45-39.
With the victory, the Redbirds prevented the Blue Devils from winning their third consecutive sectional title. For a new group of Allentown players, the victory put an exclamation point on an encouraging season of growth.
On March 2, Allentown lost in the sectional semifinals to Westampton Tech, 52-34. But Wells’ squad still exceeded expectations this winter.
After 2018, Allentown lost its longtime coach in Linda Weise, who stepped down after 22 years. Allentown also lost through graduation its all-time leading scorer in Weise’s daughter Ryan and three other starters. With four new starters, Allentown started 2-5 this season. Senior creator Lauren Coiante, the only returning starter, was doing everything and tiring out early in second halves.
But by the middle of January, Wells’ new rotation players got used to varsity basketball.
Junior Sophia Conti and sophomore Maddie McCrea became reliable scorers and rebounders in the low post. Sophomore Isabella Dona developed into a strong two way guard. Freshman Brianna Schweitzer grew into a solid player across the floor.
“We’ve had girls step up,” Wells said.
Allentown went 10-4 in its last 14 regular season games, earning the No. 7 seed in the state sectional tournament and a first round home game. In that contest, Allentown unloaded on Jackson Liberty High School in maybe its best performance of the season.
Allentown won every quarter and rolled to a 64-33 victory. Coiante led the way with 17 points, while Giovanna Carotenuto scored 14 and McCrea ended with 10 points. Dona added eight points.
The victory could have been a nice high water mark on its own. But then the Redbirds vanquished their rival from Ewing Township.
Coiante enjoyed one of the best games of her career, posting 18 points, six assists and four steals. Conti probably did have the best game of her career, with nine points, nine boards, three blocks and two steals. McCrea also had a big night, recording seven points, five boards, four steals and two blocks.
Allentown’s senior leader went off and her supporting cast made the difference. It was a winning formula for the Redbirds in January and February.
“The loss to Ewing (on Jan. 4) was a pick up game,” Conti said. “We molded together and got the groove.”
Wells’ club peaked at the right time, a good sign for any coach in her first season leading a program. And next year, Allentown will have almost everybody back. The chemistry should be there from the first practice on.
The Redbirds’ biggest challenge will be replacing Coiante. But after this winter, they have plenty of experience replacing elite talent.
“The girls are more confident out there,” Wells said. “They are a great group.”