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ND Women’s Basketball: Allen leads Notre Dame with focused demeanor

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, March 2, 2007

Whenever Irish guard Charel Allen steps on the court, she’s always focused.

She calmly exudes confidence, and she is never rattled by the score, the fans or any other aspect of the game.

But that’s just because of how she was brought up.

“I was always taught to be humble. I guess talking, like communicating, that’s nothing,” she said. “But I was always taught to be humble during the games. The games will speak for themselves.”

So far this season Allen’s calm personality has been an integral part of the team’s unexpected success. On a team that was picked to finish 11th in the conference and lost one of its top returning players – guard Lindsay Schrader to injury – Allen has been able to keep the team afloat en route to a 19-win season.

But Allen’s clutch basketball play began long before her junior campaign with the Irish. She’s been playing this way her entire life.

Home grown talent

Allen grew up in Monessen, a small town in western Pennsylvania, where she began playing basketball during the third grade in the Monessen midget league.

The midget league was a way to teach young athletes in the town about basketball, preparing them for playing in the more competitive middle school and eventually high school teams.

Allen had little experience before entering the league.

“I didn’t know much about basketball at the time,” she said. “I’m from a small town, so we all know each other.”

Growing up without any real basketball idols at home, Allen said that her first basketball role models were the older players in the league and her teams’ coaches.

Despite her humble beginnings in Monessen, she soon began to thrive in high school basketball. She finished with 3,110 points in her high school career – the fifth highest in Pennsylvania women’s basketball history. Allen also averaged 6.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 6.4 steals per game during her four years at Monessen High School.

“I loved high school,” she said. “I was a point guard. I did a lot. I did jump balls. My senior year, we only lost three games total. We won the section and the regional.”

But Allen was not the only one who loved her high school career. Allen was consistently rewarded for her abilities throughout her career, and was named Associated Press Player of the Year twice (2003, 2004) and was three-time Associated Press first team All-state from 2002-04.

With Allen leading the team, Monessen had an incredibly successful four-year stretch, compiling a 100-19 record during her four years. But the most important win for Allen during high school was in her freshman season when her team won the state championship – a game in which she set a freshman postseason record with 39 points in the final game.

Toward the her stellar high school career, Irish coach Muffet McGraw began recruiting Allen.

“I liked that she was crafty – she could do things with the ball, just really read the defense well,” McGraw said. “She could score a lot of different ways, she could handle the ball, she could pass. She was, I thought, a very talented player coming out of high school.”

Charel Allen signed a letter of intent to play at Notre Dame because of its strengths both on the court and in the classroom. In fact, Allen said that this combination was more important than purely the school’s basketball program.

“I don’t really remember watching them that much because I didn’t watch college basketball that much until my senior year, and by that time I had committed,” she said. “But what drew me to Notre Dame was the balance between academics and athletics. You have the best of both worlds.”

South Bend bound

Allen joined the Irish in 2004 as a true freshman and made an immediate impact on the squad off the bench. In her collegiate debut against Illinois State, Allen came off the bench, adding 14 points and a team-high six rebounds against the Redbird.

During her freshman season, Allen continued to excel in her transition from high school to college, scoring 8.5 a night and averaging 4.8 rebounds in conference play on her way to being named to the Big East All-freshman team.

‘I didn’t think I was going to play, so whenever I stepped on the floor my freshmen year I was just like in awe because I never thought I could play as a freshmen,” Allen said.

Unfortunately for Allen, she experienced a devastating knee injury in the final game of her freshman year in the NCAA Tournament during a second-round loss to Arizona State.

“I thought [Charel] had a great freshmen year … and the injury really set her back,” McGraw said. “It took her a whole year to recover from that.”

Last season for the Irish, Allen was unable to take a major part in the offense because of the lasting effects of her knee injury. Allen continued to come off the bench for Notre Dame, contributing 8.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game as the Irish sixth man.

Allen slowly worked her way up through the lineup and made the first start of her career Jan. 17, 2006, against DePaul, scoring five points in the 78-75 Irish win.

Even though DePaul was her first start, it was by no means her best game, as Allen notched 14 performances in double-digits. On Jan. 10, Allen played a career-high 38 minutes against Marquette, including a game-saving three-pointer with 2:23 remaining that sent the game into overtime en route to a 67-65 Irish win.

After her sophomore year, Notre Dame program experienced a major shakeup, with multiple players – including guard Meghan Duffy and forward – graduating. Even more problems arose when guard Lindsey Schrader tore her ACL during a practice tweeks before the 2006-07 season tipped off, leaving the Irish without a dominant presence. Allen stood up to the challenge.

“I just had to step up and be ready to play like I did in high school.”

A star is born

Allen became the full-time starter at the beginning of this season, and immediately demonstrated the impact she could have when given free range to play.

Allen has been an almost constant presence on the court for the Irish this season, playing 33 minutes per game while scoring a team-high 17 points overall and 19.3 points an outing in the Big East.

Allen was instrumental in the team’s offense during the regular season, leading Notre Dame in scoring in 18 of its 29 games. But her importance to the team have come not only in her own level of play, but also in the way in which she is able to help lead the team by example.

“I don’t say much on the court, and hopefully the underclassmen would look at me and think that I lead by example,” Allen said.

Even though Allen is such a quiet player on the court, McGraw feels that it is important to have a balance of emotional and steady personalities on a roster in order to keep composure.

‘Players can have a lot of emotion, and players can have that steady demeanor, and she’s more on that steady demeanor side,” McGraw said. It’s great at the end of games because she never gets rattled.”

But Allen refuses to let this recent success inflate her ego. On the inside, she is still the same humble person just playing the game she loves.

Throughout the game, Allen maintains a constant level of focus, keeping her composed throughout the game.

“That’s how I play from the start of the game,” she said. “I mean it’s the same way I try not to get nervous before the game because it’s just a game. I just have a different jersey on.

“It’s just a game I’ve been playing all my life.”