Allen celebrates birthday by unwrapping BNL’s start of the state championship defense

BNL coach Jeff Allen celebrated his 62nd birthday on Monday as the Stars opened official practice sessions for the 2023-24 basketball campaign.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – Most people celebrate their birthday with a day off. Jeff Allen went back to work.

Allen’s gift, for the coach who has everything, was unwrapping the opening day of official practice sessions for the 2023-24 season, his 10th in charge of Bedford North Lawrence’s powerhouse program. The Stars started the defense of their fifth state championship with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” for their mentor, then immediately shifted into all-business mode.

Turn on the lights, the party’s over. The summer flew past, as time does with age. The state championship trophy has been secured in its trophy-case home, the new banner for the rafters of BNL Fieldhouse is on its way to join its predecessors in the northeast corner. Now BNL must brace for the coming winter challenges. And there will be many.

Replace three starters, including an Indiana All-Star, from the 27-3 champions. Prepare for multiple ambushes, with a schedule that looms as difficult and dynamic, as the ultimate in the role of the hunted. The target on the uniform is even bigger than before. Don’t lower the goals or expectations.

“More than usual, people are really excited to play us,” Allen said. “We’re used to that, but it’s even more. Everybody we played over the summer was enthusiastic about trying to beat us. It just makes you better. I’m a big believer in that’s what makes you a good team. We want to be good. We’d like to be good out of the gate, but we’re really working on being good at the end of January.”

Fret not, nor feel sympathy for the Stars. They’ll be just fine. The roster is stocked with four seniors, including a Miss Basketball contender (if not the frontrunner after her incredible state tournament last season) and one of the more underrated players in Indiana. They have role players ready to fill voids. What they will lack in size (which is a common theme of late) they will make up in tenacity and the confidence of a champion.

BNL’s Chloe Spreen, a Miss Basketball contender, works against teammate Tori Nikirk.

The encore performance will center around Chloe Spreen, the Alabama recruit who averaged 19.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists while earning a roster spot with the Indiana Junior All-Stars a year ago. She will start the year fifth on the program’s scoring list with 1,358 career points, with a shot at the top spot. Madisyn Bailey, the quiet unsung veteran on her way to Marian University, averaged 7.6 points as a junior but is ready to shoulder a bigger offensive load.

“I’ve got two really outstanding players, two of the best in the state,” Allen said. “And we’ve got a bunch of kids without a ton of experience. So I’m anxious to see these seniors, because I believe they can really make these kids into a solid team. These seniors are that good, where they can make kids around them a lot better. You can see they are both really ready to play.”

There’s no doubt about that. The echoes from the roars in Gainbridge Fieldhouse have not subsided yet.

“We’re all very excited,” Spreen said. “There’s a lot of momentum to get back there. I think we’re ready to get started. We want to get back there. That’s the whole team’s mentality. We know how fun it was.“

“Being a state champ was like a dream,” said returning senior Haleigh Canada. “I loved it. We still have the same goals, the same concept of coming to practice every day ready to play.”

For the next three weeks, leading up to the season opener at Mooresville on Nov. 3, BNL will finish putting a bow on the roster. Lineup spots and roles will become clearer. Who replaces departed stars Karsyn Norman (15.5 points, 4.2 assists before moving on to Butler) and Mallory Pride (10.8 points, 6.9 boards), or championship hero Emma Brown? There are possibilities with Trinidy Bailey, Tori Nikirk, Katie Godlevske, incoming freshman Miley Sherrill and others.

BNL senior Madisyn Bailey will be one of the returning starters with valuable experience.

“I hope we work together and have a great year like we did last year,” senior Bella Jackson said. “There is potential for people stepping into places that need to be filled.”

“I like the fact we have kids that can play multiple positions,” Allen said. “We don’t have a lot of size, we don’t have a true post player. Teams that do, it will be difficult for them to match up with us.

“We’re fortunate that we had the bulk of our roster here (during the preseason workouts in early October), so we’re ahead as far as our work goes. For us, because of our size, we want to be able to defend and rebound. That will always be a focus. We like to put pressure on people, we like to play fast, so getting our conditioning will be key.”

BNL’s schedule will include the usual tests against the Hoosier Hills Conference (including powerful Jennings County on the road), plus a visit from Noblesville for the Pete Pritchett Classic in December, roads trips to Brownsburg (to meet Lawrence North in the Sneakers for Santa event), Fort Wayne Northrup and Louisville power Sacred Heart.

“We will get the best from everyone, every game,” Spreen said. “We have a lot of girls that want it just as bad.”

“There will be a lot of people looking for us,” Canada added. “That’s something we have to know.”

BNL will also look to extend its streak of 12 consecutive Class 4A sectional titles and defend the HHC crown.

“We’re still trying to do the same things,” Bailey said. “It will be a little more difficult.”

BNL will stage two public scrimmages, starting with the annual intrasquad session on Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. The IHSAA-sanctioned scrimmage with Scottsburg is currently set for Oct. 27.

BNL seniors Haleigh Canada and Bella Jackson work on fundamentals during a drill.