Last year’s state championship for the Bellwood-Antis girls basketball team was arguably the greatest moment in the school’s history, regardless of the sport. The moment was so big that the school district canceled classes for the day so all the students, faculty, and administration could attend the game at the Giant Center in Hershey.
Any of the Bellwood-Antis players and fans likely won’t forget that moment anytime soon.
And with four out of five starters returning from that state championship team from last year, it’s safe to say that the Lady Blue Devils are coming back for more.
Since that day, the Lady Blue Devils have added a pair of players that committed to Division I schools in Alli Campbell and Sakeria Haralson. Alli, last year’s Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania, will go to Notre Dame in a couple years. Haralson committed to Monmouth University this past summer.
And make no mistake about it. The Lady Blue Devils are ready for this season to get under way.
“We’re a veteran team,” said Bellwood-Antis head coach Jim Swaney. “Sometimes I think practice can become monotonous at this point. We’re ready to play. All in all, I’m pleased with the way things have been going.
“We talked a lot about how we want to be perceived. We understand how hard it is to get to the level we were at last year. With that said, I don’t think there’s anybody in our program that wouldn’t like to get back to the same level. We talk a lot about 20 or 25 years from now, how would you like this team to be remembered? I think the kids are buying into that.”
Inevitably, the duo of Campbell and Haralson will be the heart and soul for the Lady Blue Devils. Campbell scored 34 of her team’s 45 points in the 45-42 win over West Catholic in the state title game. She is now over 1,300 points for her career with two years left to play.
Haralson averaged a double-double last season and is probably one of the best post players in the state.
“They understand that their games have to move forward,” said Swaney. “They have both worked very hard to develop their games. Sakeria is much stronger and even faster than she was last year. She’s developing her outside skills, which will go along with the fact that she’s such a dominant inside player. Alli is trying to become just a complete player. She’s working very hard at it and I think she is. Those two kids are never going to quit working at it.”
With Campbell and Haralson, Bellwood also brings back senior Riley D’Angelo and junior Emilie Leidig to the starting lineup. D’Angelo put in over 300 points last year, while Leidig added 348 more.
“I think Riley D’Angelo and Emilie Leidig are two of the most underrated players in central Pennsylvania,” Swaney said. “They’re both extremely good defenders. They’re both going to knock down the open jump shot. They’re both taking the ball to the basket very well this preseason. I’m excited about that part of our game.”
The fifth starting spot will go to junior Jaydyn Shuke. Shuke is no stranger to the Lady Blue Devils either as she appeared in 25 of Bellwood’s 31 games last year.
Swaney also believes his bench will play a bigger factor into this season, as well.
“I think we’re going to be a deeper bench,” he said. “I think we can afford to go to that bench a little more this year. I’m just very excited about the development some of these kids have had. I’m anxious to see how much the kids have worked and for them to reap the benefits from it.”
One of the things the Lady Blue Devils are looking forward to is playing in a tournament in Myrtle Beach later this month. Bellwood will be in a 16-team tournament that features some of the best high school teams in the country.
“It’s going to bring us some competition that we have never played against,” said Swaney. “Four of the 16 teams that are in that tournament are in Maxpreps’ Preseason Top 25 in the country. We’re running into a lot of competition down there. Our first game is going to be against Lovejoy, Georgia down there. They were the 6A state champion in Georgia last year and they bring back four starters. We understand we have our work cut out for us.
“We’re looking forward to it. I think our kids want to accept the challenge to see if we can compete on a level like that. And there’s no drawback to this thing. In a worst-case scenario, if we go down there and get knocked around a little bit, so what? We’re still able to come back and get into our league play. I just don’t see any deterrent for not going down. We’re really looking forward to the opportunity.”
And as for the season goals? Naturally for a team coming off a Class 2A state championship in March with four starters coming back, they couldn’t be any higher.
“We fully expect to compete for the league, district and state championships,” Swaney said. “That’s been our goal for the last seven or eight years at Bellwood and it’s not going to change this year. We’ve been telling the kids we don’t get any edge and we don’t get any advantage from winning the state title last year. We understand the challenges in front of us. I think the kids are really looking forward to the next three months to see what happens, and I know I’m looking forward to it.”
Bellwood-Antis starts off the season at home against Tyrone on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.
Seniors: Riley D’Angelo, Olivia Musselman, Ali Wagner. Juniors: Brenin Abbott, Alli Campbell, Macy Decker, Sakeria Haralson, Emilie Leidig, Jaydyn Shuke. Sophomores: Madison Otto, Kaitlyn Robison, Dakota Woomer. Freshmen: Nicole Boslet, Jaidyn McCracken, Sophia Nelson, Jaylee Shuke, Abby Watters.
12/8 vs. Tyrone, 3 p.m.
12/12 vs. Everett
12/14 vs. Williamsburg
12/18-12/22 at Crescom Bank Holiday Invitational, TBA, at Myrtle Beach, S.C.
12/27 at Kiwanis Tournament, TBA, at Tyrone High School
12/29 at Kiwanis Tournament, TBA, at Tyrone High School
1/2 vs. West Branch
1/3 at Glendale
1/8 vs. Juniata Valley
1/10 vs. Moshannon Valley
1/15 at Claysburg-Kimmel
1/17 at Williamsburg
1/21 at West Branch
1/24 vs. Mount Union
1/28 vs. Glendale
1/31 at Juniata Valley
2/4 at Moshannon Valley
2/6 at Mount Union
2/7 vs. Claysburg-Kimmel
All games start at 7:30 p.m. unless noted.