Bishop Canevin grad Bri Allen making key contributions as freshman at Cal (Pa.)
If anyone knows how Cal (Pa.) freshman Bri Allen operates on the basketball court, it is teammate Gina Vallecorsa.
Vallecorsa, a junior and the Vulcans’ second-leading scorer, also played with Allen at Bishop Canevin. When talking about Allen, Vallecorsa uses terms such as “aggressive,” “hard-working” and “confident.”
Those are traits the 5-foot-6 Allen displayed for the Crusaders, and they have carried over to the college level. Through Feb. 13, Allen had appeared in all but one game and was averaging 3.3 points and 2.4 rebounds in 15.1 minutes per game for the Vulcans (18-3, 12-3 PSAC).
Cal coach Jess Strom isn’t shy about giving freshmen prominent roles in her lineup if she believes they can be difference-makers. Her faith in Allen has been rewarded.
“She’s usually the first one off the bench because I know she’s going to make something happen,” Strom said. “She’s so tough.”
Added Vallecorsa: “She’s not afraid to do the dirty work, get down for a loose ball, take a charge.”
As Exhibit A of Allen’s impact, Strom pointed to Cal’s victory at then-No. 1 IUP. Allen played 23 minutes, scored four points, had five rebounds and a steal. More importantly, Strom said, she hounded Crimson Hawks leading scorer Carolyn Appleby and helped hold her to nine points.
“At IUP, in a pretty good environment, that can be tough mentally,” Strom said. “She came in on the road against the No. 1 team and was so poised.”
While her gritty style of play is nothing new, Allen’s position on the floor is.
At Bishop Canevin, Allen earned second-team all-state at point guard as a junior and first-team all-state as a post player as a senior. But at Cal, Strom put Allen at shooting guard.
It was nice knowing she didn’t have to bounce around the lineup the way she did in high school. At the same time, it involved honing a different set of skills.
“I feel I’m adjusting well to becoming more of a guard,” said Allen, who scored a season-best 14 points against Millersville in December. “I have to handle the ball more now and be more confident in my outside shot.”
That part of her game is still developing. Allen was shooting 37.5 percent from the field and made only one of 11 3-point attempts.
“She just needs to increase her range,” Strom said. “She can make an outside shot, but she doesn’t feel comfortable with it. And she has to work on ball handling so she can beat someone off the dribble from the perimeter.”
Defensively, Strom praised Allen for picking up Cal’s schemes quickly. Strom’s system involves constant pressing and continual switching of assignments, and Allen’s toughness — plus her ability to guard anyone from point guards to post players — make her an ideal fit.
“I had to kind of start over,” Allen said. “But everything is working out good for me now. It’s just basketball. Just play and don’t overthink anything.”
Allen and Vallecorsa won a WPIAL championship together at Bishop Canevin in 2016, when Vallecorsa was a senior and Allen was a sophomore. Now they have their eye on a PSAC championship.
The Vulcans hit a rough patch after their big win over IUP, but Vallecorsa and Allen are confident Cal can emerge from the ultra-competitive conference with the title.
As for Allen’s future as a college player, Strom and Vallecorsa believe the sky is the limit for her.
“She works really hard, and she doesn’t give up,” Vallecorsa said. “She’s just so tough and has so much to give once she learns some more. There’s so much more potential for her to grow.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at [email protected] or via Twitter @CCurti_Trib.