Injury not curbing Campbell’s enthusiasm to play for Lady Lions

Mirror photo by Michael Boytim Alli Campbell (22) talks with freshman teammate Ymke Brouwer during a workout on Tuesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Alli Campbell, Blair County’s all-time leading scorer among all high school boys and girls basketball players, has dreamt about playing for the Penn State Lady Lions since she was in elementary school.

An offseason injury will delay the realization of that dream, but Campbell took part in her first media day as a member of the Penn State roster Tuesday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center.

“In fifth and sixth grade, I had season tickets,” Campbell said. “That’s when Maggie (Lucas) was a senior, and really since then, I have aspired to play college basketball and get better each day. To be back in this arena now and be on the other side of things playing is pretty special. Ever since I was little, I have loved Penn State women’s basketball.

“When I was here watching, they were competing for Big Ten championships, and I know that’s where we want to get back to now. Those are our goals every day as we head into practice. It’s been a dream of mine, and I know in the next couple years, we’ll be back competing for championships again.”

Campbell entered the transfer portal following her freshman year at Notre Dame during which she started strong but got little playing time in the second half of the season. She will have four years of eligibility at Penn State due to the NCAA granting everyone an extra season due to COVID issues last year, but her season this year won’t start with the Lady Lions’ opener on Nov. 9 when Penn State hosts Long Island.

“I am currently dealing with an injury right now,” Campbell said. “I’m following the steps, the guidance and the protocol that the medical staff has for me. I’m really grateful to be here, and whenever I’m done with my rehab, I’m really looking forward to getting back out on the court. I’m not sure when that is, but every day I’m getting better and improving. Hopefully, it happens soon enough.”

Campbell got some shots up without a limp and wasn’t wearing any braces during the portion of Tuesday’s practice open to the media and encouraged teammates from the sideline during team drills.

Third-year Penn State head coach Carolyn Kieger said she’s been happy with Campbell’s progress in recovering from her injury.

“She’s working every day to come back,” Kieger said. “The medical staff is doing a phenomenal job with her, and we have zero doubts that she’s going to come back at 100 percent for us.”

When she makes it back, Campbell will join a young group with plenty of potential.

“Last year, (Penn State) was the youngest team in the Big Ten,” Campbell said. “Most of those girls are back, and we’ve had another year to grow and get better. It’s exciting having a young team that already has some experience. We’re building on that and growing together. When we’re seniors, we’ll have had three or four years playing together. That bonding experience is going to help us win some games, and that’s really exciting to look forward to growing with these girls.”

Kieger said Campbell will be a major part of that future.

“Alli is going to be a phenomenal addition to this program,” Kieger said. “Not only on the court, but from a leadership standpoint and a culture standpoint. She’s everything that you want Penn State to be, and she’s so excited to get this program back to when she was in (fifth) grade watching the Lady Lions compete for championships. She still talks about that and gets goosebumps.”

Campbell can look to graduate senior Kelly Jekot for inspiration. The 6-foot guard also transferred into the Penn State program and suffered an injury just nine games into last season. She opted to rehab and come back for one more year and is one of just two seniors on the team.

“When we saw that Kelly was coming back, we were all excited,” Campbell said. “She’s a great leader for us. She’s one of our captains, and she’s taught me so much, especially this past summer and offseason. Just to be able to watch her go about her business and how she leads, it’s been really helpful to have her by my side and learn from her.”

Jekot said she’s tried to work on different sides of basketball while injured and that she’s even considering becoming a collegiate coach once her playing career is over.

“Through my personal experience, I have tried to take an unfortunate situation and make it a positive,” Jekot said. “This past season, I really focused on my voice and what my leadership can bring to the team. I also learned basketball from a new perspective. I learned the Xs and Os. I paid attention to things I wouldn’t have normally paid attention to, and those are things I can share with anybody who has been injured that it’s possible to grow during that time.”

Campbell said she’s ready for whatever role that helps the team when she returns.

“I’m going to compete and give everything I have every day,” Campbell said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win, whether that’s defend, rebound or score. I want to be a great teammate, be a great leader and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get the team to where we want to get to. I feel like we have a really great future that we’re building right now, and good things are ahead for us.”

Until then, she’ll continue to be the Lady Lions’ biggest fan. During Tuesday’s practice, Campbell was constantly shouting words of encouragement and congratulating teammates after solid plays.

“My personal goals are to be the best teammate possible,” Campbell said. “I want to be the best encourager and do whatever it takes to help this team win games, get to the top of the Big Ten and win championships.”

The Bellwood-Antis graduate and two-time PIAA champion’s smile was obvious even with a mask covering her face Tuesday when she was asked what it will be like to take the court for Penn State when the time comes in front of the people she grew up with.

“Having my family 40 minutes down the road is really special,” Campbell said. “They can come to any game they want. My high school and my community have always been really good to me, and I know there’s already people buying season tickets, which is really cool. It’s cool to play in your home state in front of your own fans. It’s special.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.39/week.

Subscribe Today