When the final buzzer sounded at the end of last week’s PIAA Class 6A state semifinal matchup between Plymouth Whitemarsh and Cedar Cliff, it represented a lot of things for the victorious Colonials.
It was yet another notch in the win column — the team’s 33rd to be exact — and it kept Plymouth Whitemarsh’s undefeated season intact. It also marked the program’s first trip to the state title game in nearly four decades, with the 1985 Colonials girls’ basketball team serving as the most recent, and only other to make the final.
Perhaps most importantly, it was a chance for a team that had been sprinting through the high school basketball postseason to take a moment to appreciate how far it had come.
“Just utter, sheer joy that set in after that game,” Plymouth Whitemarsh coach Dan Dougherty said. “We really let loose and just enjoyed it … We were lucky to have such a long time between then and the state championship because it’s allowed us to enjoy it.”
On Saturday night, the Colonials will take on Mt. Lebanon of Pittsburgh at the Giant Center in Hershey. Plymouth Whitemarsh will look to put a cap on a perfect season that has been years in the making. At the front of that effort will be the same trio of standout seniors that helped the Colonials get there.
For senior center Lainey Allen, the path to this year’s state title game was messy. After earning honorable mention all-conference honors as a freshman, she missed much of her sophomore and junior seasons with a knee injury. Instead of competing alongside her teammates, Allen was undergoing an arduous rehab process, fighting to get back on the floor.
“It was definitely a very hard time watching my team win or lose games,” Allen said. “It was very hard to sit on the sidelines and not be able to help them. I think that something that [helped] me overcome it the most was just having the mindset that I was going to be back and that I was going to be better than ever.”
Allen didn’t waste any time returning to her old form, immediately slotting in as one of the team’s most versatile weapons on both ends of the floor.
“She has been a game-changer for us this year,” Dougherty said. “She’s so athletic for her size … It’s one thing to have the size, but to be able to move the way that she does and run the floor the way that she does, it’s allowed us to do some elite things defensively.”
Standing at 6-foot-2, Allen has the height to be a strong rim finisher and rebounder on offense. But it has been on defense where her blend of size and athleticism have done the most damage. Allen is capable of guarding the 1-5 spots on the floor, something that Dougherty has pointed to as key to building an elite defensive team. Her versatility extends to full-court scenarios too, and when Dougherty deploys a full-court press, it’s often Allen at the front of it.
When defenses attempt to neutralize Allen on offense, they open scoring opportunities for senior forward Jordyn Thomas. Together, Allen and Thomas have become a formidable offensive duo, one that constantly creates mismatches for defenses.
The pair has also become a favorite target for senior point guard Kaitlyn Flanagan, Plymouth Whitemarsh’s four-year starter at the position. While her starting spot has remained constant, Flanagan’s role on the team has evolved since she first joined the program.
In Flanagan’s freshman season, she ran the point for a Colonials team that was going through a major transition. The program had graduated many of its scorers, and Dougherty’s starting lineup was composed solely of underclassmen.
“When we think back to that year, we kind of joke that we had to shout out five sets of directions every time, up and down the floor, because nobody knew what to do,” Dougherty said. “[Flanagan] embraced that, and by the end of the season, she was a floor general out there. The nice part was to be able to grow with that set of kids and be a leader so early on.”
Since that first season, Flanagan’s role has adjusted to meet the team’s needs. After being one of the team’s highest scorers as an underclassman, Flanagan now averages the fewest points among Plymouth Whitemarsh’s starting five. This season, her biggest strength has been as a facilitator, and the first-team all-conference honoree is averaging nearly six assists per game.
After dealing with pandemic-interrupted seasons as a sophomore and junior, and after missing her offensive partner in crime in Allen, this season has been a breath of fresh air for Flanagan. For the first season in a long time, there were no distractions.
“Having it be in our hands, kind of being able to control our own fate with this team, we’re all so grateful to have that opportunity to be able to take it as far as we can,” Flanagan said. “To have all the pieces kind of come together in the way that they have … I think everyone really just bought in this year.”
Allen, Flanagan, and Thomas make up a senior class that has won more than any other in Plymouth Whitemarsh history. On Saturday, the trio will look to add to that record and tally its 98th win.
“It’s honestly the perfect ending to the four years we’ve had here at PW,” Thomas said. “It’s surreal. I just feel like all the hard work that this team has put in over the last four years, and all the extra hours in the gym and film sessions, I think that it’s all finally paid off.”
In addition to serving as a chance to make program history, Saturday’s state championship is also the final game for a group that has been inseparable for four years. After this year, each of the senior stars will take their talents to the next level.
Allen, whose father, Marcus, was an HBCU All-American at Paine College, will follow in her father’s footsteps and play her college ball at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a Division I HBCU. Flanagan will head to the Patriot League to play for Holy Cross, and Thomas will head to nearby Thomas Jefferson University to play for storied coach and Plymouth Whitemarsh graduate Tom Shirley.
But before they turn their attention to their basketball futures, Allen, Flanagan, Thomas, and the rest of the Colonials are ready to put the exclamation point on their historic season.
“We’ve got one more,” Flanagan said. “We’re really locked into trying to win that game now, because it’s not over yet for us.”