Missy Dougherty (@missyingyou)
(Ed. Note: This story is the latest in CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2021-22 season preview coverage. As we publish more, the complete list of schools previewed will be found here.)
The names and faces have changed over the years in the Abington High School girls’ basketball program. Yet, the winning tradition, established by head coach Dan Marsh, never graduates.
Now in his 18th season on the Ghosts’ sidelines, Marsh once again has a squad capable of adding to the program’s storied legacy.
Dan Marsh surpassed the 400-win total last season, his 23rd as a high school head coach. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“There’s not much we haven’t done,” Marsh said, referring to his program’s championship resume that includes five trips to the PIAA Elite 8 since 2010. “We’ve won two district titles and been to three district finals,” he added.
The ultimate goal remains elusive. “We always want to be able to be in a position to make a run at a state championship,” Marsh said.
New year. Same goal.
A perennial contender in the Suburban One League and District One, Abington looks poised to once again make some noise in March as Marsh returns his top eight from a team that went 14-5 last season on the way to losing in the district quarterfinals. The Ghosts did not exit the postseason quietly, however, as eighth-seeded Abington gave top-seeded Spring-Ford all it could handle. Pulling within one early in the third quarter, the Ghosts proved to be a formidable test for the eventual state runner-up Rams, as Spring-Ford resorted to holding the ball in the fourth quarter to close out the contest.
It was a season of growth for a young squad that Marsh feels is hungry for more now that it has gained some playoff experience.
“We can go 10 deep,” March said as he talked about his team’s affection for both playing fast and pressing defense.
Topping Marsh’s talented roster is the junior duo of Cire Worley and Jaida Helm. Each fielding Division I offers to play at the next level, Worley and Helm will be counted on to lead this group to the expected heights that has become the norm in Abington’s program.
Worley (above) earned first-team all-conference honors last season for her standout all-around play. Showing her firepower on the offensive end of the floor, the 6-foot-tall guard canned six three-pointers on her way to a season-high 29 points in a key non-conference regular-season showdown against fellow district heavyweight Methacton.
“Cire has always been an elite scorer but now she has stepped up all the other parts of her game — defense, leadership and playmaking,” Marsh said. “I think she will have a breakout year.”
Joining Worley in making great strides in her game is classmate Helm. The 5-10 forward shined brightly in the bright lights of the district playoffs last season. Helm exploded for a 26-point, 13-rebound performance to power the Ghosts past ninth-seeded Methacton, 68-56, in the second round of district play. She then followed that up with a team-high nine points against a stingy Spring-Ford defense in Abington’s season-ending loss. Meriting honorable mention all-conference honors as a sophomore, Helm seems ready to elevate her game to help the Ghosts accomplish their goals.
“Jaida has also improved in all areas of her game,” Marsh said. “She improved her ball handling, shooting, leadership, and has become a good all-around player. She has been holding other players accountable in workouts and has established that she wants to win.”
Wanting to win seems to be the name of the game at Abington as Helm reiterated the thoughts of her coach: “this season,” she said, “we want to win as much as possible.” Praising both the talent coming back, as well as the capabilities of the newcomers, the junior emphasized the program’s daily commitment to getting better.
“We’re just going to come in everyday and work hard, because we all have such high expectations for what we can all do as a team,” she said.
Junior forward Jaida Helm (above) will team with Worley to form one of the more formidable wing/forward duos in the Suburban One. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Lost to graduation last year was Amanda Jackson (playing at Houghton College), but the rest of the talented returning cast includes 5-3 junior Abril Bowser, 5-6 junior Maura Day, 5-3 sophomore Jordyn Reynolds, 5-5 sophomore Piper McGinley and 5-10 sophomore Sarah O’Leary. Krysten Brown, a 6-0 senior forward, also returns after missing last season due to a knee injury.
Bowser, a starter in 2020-21, provided quality minutes for the Ghosts last season, as well as a highlight-reel moment. The guard’s last-second shot from just inside the half-court line against Souderton forced overtime and helped pave the way for Abington’s come-from-behind victory against its rival in late February.
Look for a pair of 5-3 freshmen to also make an impact as Maya Johnson and Dani Brusha will both compete for starting spots
Notably absent from the list of returning players is 5-6 senior Khalis Whiting. The standout point guard, who has garnered multiple all-conference honors over her career, will be forced to make her contributions from the sideline this season as a knee injury suffered in the fall will claim Whiting’s final year in an Abington uniform. A starter since freshman year, Whiting recently signed with Stony Brook University to continue her career.
Whiting is expecting big things from her squad this year as she looks to make the best out of the circumstances handed to her.
“Although I won’t be on the floor to help lead, I will definitely be on the sidelines every game looking to help coach and motivate my teammates,” she said. “I would have never thought this would be my role going into my senior year but I’m excited and appreciative that my coaches are giving me an opportunity to still impact the game.”
Worley agrees that Whiting will still have an impact on the squad.
“Khalis brings the energy, so it will be hard not having her on the court, but she will continue to bring it on the bench,” Worley said.
Helm echoes Worley’s thoughts on how important Whiting’s presence will be for the group.
“She won’t be on the court physically,” Helm said, “but with her passion and intensity that she’s going to have on the sideline, she’ll make it feel like we have a sixth person on the floor.”
Do not expect Abington’s goals to change without Whiting physically on the court.
“The expectations for the season are what they always are,” Marsh said. “The point guard position is currently a question mark without Whiting, but I could see the answer being a point-guard-by-committee approach.”
No matter who plays point guard, Marsh guarantees they will be a fun team to watch who should be able to score in bunches.
“Scoring 60 to 70 points a game is ideal for us,” said the long-time bench boss, who earned his 400th career coaching victory last season.
Citing the team’s strength on defense, Marsh believes his team has forged a collective identity that isn’t fun to match up against. “We aren’t going to be tall, but we will be pesky,” he said.
This season’s schedule presents its share of challenges including SOL opponents Upper Dublin and Plymouth Whitemarsh, who Marsh made sure to mention will be one of the toughest teams in the state. A spot in the Germantown Academy tournament the first weekend of the season will give the Ghosts two early-season tests including the opener against the George School on Dec. 10.
Reflecting on her time at Abington, Whiting talks about the experience being life changing.
“I often brag about how great of a coaching staff I have, and that’s not just because of their investment into the players as athletes, but their investment in you as a person,” she said. “I will always appreciate how hard Marsh coached me throughout the years because it has prepared me for what’s yet to come.”
What’s yet to come for Abington remains unwritten, but count Whiting among the believers in the potential of her teammates. “We are capable of winning it all and that will show,” declared the senior leader. “It’s up to my teammates to want it just as much as I do.”
Whiting’s teammates share in her desire to go out on top. “We want to win for all of our seniors but we’re really playing for Khalis this year,” said Helm. “It’s definitely extra motivation for us this season.”