By Buck Frank
Bellwood-Antis High School junior Alli Campbell has already won a state basketball championship.
Two years from now, she’ll be in an excellent position to possibly be part of a national collegiate championship.
Campbell, the reigning Altoona Mirror and PIAA Class 2A player of the year, committed on Monday night to take her game to South Bend to play for the defending national champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw beginning in 2020.
“I texted Coach McGraw Monday night,” Campbell said Wednesday. “I asked her when it would be a good time for me to call her, and she replied, ‘How’s now?’ Talking with her is so easy and comfortable. I proceeded to tell her I would love to play for her, and she was very happy and excited. We both were.”
The verbal commitment capped off a whirlwind two-year recruiting journey that had nearly all the top programs in the nation interested in the 6-foot guard/forward who is on pace to become the all-time leading scholastic scorer in Blair County history.
Monmouth was the first school to offer Campbell a full ride in October 2016, and many followed, including 2017 national champion South Carolina. She ended up with more than 35 Division I scholarship offers.
Campbell said the hardest part of the recruiting process was telling schools she was not committing to their program – schools such as Penn State, Stanford, Duke, Pitt, Boston College, Michigan and Michigan State.
But, ultimately, she said she’s at peace with her decision to attend Notre Dame.
“From the first time I stepped on campus last fall, I loved it,” Campbell said.
McGraw, a Pottsville native, has won 800 games in her 31 seasons with the Irish, including two national championships (2001 and 2018) and eight Final Fours.
Campbell said there was no sense putting off her decision because she knew she found the perfect fit.
“The coaching staff is amazing. The academics are second to none. The opportunity to play for a Hall of Fame coach is once in a lifetime,” she said. “After watching them fight through all of their adversity last season, I feel extremely proud, excited and honored to become a member of the Notre Dame family.”
She also received some encouragement from Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic graduate Mary Forr, who was part of the Notre Dame women’s program for four years and was a walk-on player during the 2010-11 season.
“While talking to Mary Forr about her experiences at Notre Dame, I could feel her passion and love for the university in every word she spoke,” Campbell said. “She didn’t have one bad thing to say about Notre Dame. If anything, she gave me so much insight, not only into the basketball program, but also into the lasting effects of receiving a Notre Dame education.”
Campbell said Forr was not the only one who helped in her decision. She said an outpouring of support from family, including parents Travis and Erin, friends, teammates, coaches, trainers and the community helped to uplift and encourage her through the process.
Bellwood-Antis coach Jim Swaney was among them.
“I think Notre Dame’s a great choice for Alli, because it was her No. 1 choice,” Swaney said. “It’s where she wanted to go. Academically and athletically, it’s hard to go wrong with Notre Dame. They recruit the best of the best. I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say it’s one of the top five women’s programs in the country, and I know Alli had her goals set on going to a big-time school. I couldn’t be happier for her.”
Campbell’s commitment will allow her to focus on her high school studies the next two seasons while trying to lead the Lady Blue Devils’ quest for more success. Just 16 years old, Campbell has already scored 1,345 points at Bellwood-Antis.
She will be teaming with another Division I recruit, Sakeria Haralson, a junior who committed to Monmouth, for the next two seasons.
“I definitely have some goals to accomplish (in high school) — maybe a couple of more gold medals,” Campbell said. “I’ve never been more motivated to get better. I know what I need to work on, and I will work harder than ever these next couple of years, for sure.”