Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
FORT WASHINGTON — The only thing Lainey Allen wanted for her senior season was to be on a basketball court to ball with her teammates.
It may not seem like a complicated wish, but between the injury, the surgery, the arduous rehab and the factors outside her control, the Plymouth Whitemarsh senior had plenty of adversity to hurdle to make it come true. Through each challenge or setback, Allen never lost focus of the end goal and it has only made each moment of success this season feel all the more worth it.
PW's blessing has been a nightmare for opponents, with Allen causing all sorts of problems for opponents of the now 7-0 Colonials.
Lainey Allen (above) is making a major impact for unbeaten Plymouth Whitemarsh this year. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)
"I love it, I love just being able to show off what I didn't get a chance to after being hurt," Allen said after Thursday's 47-28 win at Upper Dublin. "I'm so grateful to be with this team, working together and winning games especially. It's really amazing."
The impact Allen has had for PW is evident in the team's boxscores but also well beyond. Thursday, she had 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks as the Colonials bested SOL Liberty rival Upper Dublin for the second time in three days following an 11-point, 10-board, six-block showing in Tuesday's win over the Cardinals.
All of that followed a week where Allen accounted for 49 total points in three games in the Diamond State Classic in Delaware as the Colonials finally got into a rhythm after a myriad of postponements from opponents altered their early-season schedule. It hasn't mattered much to the senior, a 6-foot-2 forward with a wingspan of about 6-foot-5 who swarms the ball at the top of PW's press defense.
"It's her motor, it is 100 percent the motor," Colonials coach Dan Dougherty said. "The type of motor she is playing with is at an elite Division I level. It's the biggest thing I've seen this year. She was still learning the game of basketball in a sense as a freshman, sophomore and even a junior but now, it's hard enough to defend someone who is 6-foot-2 and has some skill but when you have a kid willing to move, cut, back screen, roll and full-court defend, well now you're talking about an elite athlete."
Allen's athleticism was locked away much of the last two years due to a left knee injury that required surgery and led to a protracted rehab process that lingered through parts of her sophomore and junior years at PW and the AAU season in between. There was a state playoff game her sophomore year during the 2019-20 season, which ended up being the last the Colonials played that season before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the remainder of the playoffs, where Allen could only stand on the baseline frustrated that she couldn't be out on the floor with her teammates.
The physical toll had to be paid in patience and commitment to recovery, which Allen has more than paid getting back in basketball shape and rebuilding the on-court connection with her teammates. The mental toll had its own fees, mainly coming from an internal frustration that she couldn't do anything but watch and cheer when she knew she had much more to give.
"Watching, especially during a loss, I just wished I could be out there to help them in any way that I could but I was stuck on the sideline and there was nothing I could do," Allen said. "I just had this hunger to get back on the court and just ball.
"I had a determination to want to get better. I wanted to impress my teammates, impress the crowd, impress myself really and see what I could do with all these skills. I'm definitely stronger for sure, I'm much more confident going up for layups and free-throws, a rebound, anything."
By the end of the 2020-21 season, where the Colonials reached the District 1 6A title game but fell to Spring-Ford and had their hopes of a state title dashed again, Allen had started to rediscover her groove as a key reserve off the PW bench. This past summer, it all started falling back in place.
During the long process of coming back, Allen admitted she started to doubt if she would get the chance to play at the next level. Her father, Marcus Allen, provided constant support and when Lainey moved to a new AAU team - the Maryland Lady Shooting Stars - this summer, the perfect opportunity came along.
Her AAU coaches reached out to the staff at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore on Allen's behalf and it didn't take long for an offer to follow suit.
"They came out to see me practice and play a few games and instantly knew they wanted me to come to their school," Allen said. "I really liked the school, especially the business program because that's what I want to major in and the athletic program was very nice and welcoming. I decided pretty quickly that's where I wanted to be."
Marcus Allen played at Paine College, had a short spell with the Denver Nuggets then played overseas in Europe, Israel and South America and currently serves as the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence.
On the court, Allen is an exceptional athlete. Off the floor, she's an outstanding student with firm aspirations of a future in the business world. Allen sees a lot of crossover between basketball and business, especially in the competitive nature of both fields and reliance on strong teamwork and communication.
At PW, the senior is part of the International Baccalaureate program The program is coordinated by Becky Duffy, Dougherty's predecessor as the Colonials' girls' basketball coach, and teammate and fellow senior Kaitlyn Flangan is also in the program, so there's plenty of hoops talk as well.
"She's definitely an elite student and you talk about a kid that's going to step right in at the next level and contribute, it's Lainey," Dougherty said. "I'm not saying she's going to be an immediate starter or average double-doubles, but she'll step in and with nothing else, the frame and athleticism will help carry her along with the motor."
PW's expectations haven't changed this year and the Colonials expect to contend for conference, district and state titles. Dougherty felt the program's success helped push Allen during her recovery because she saw her team winning and doing well and envisioned what she could do to help them reach even further heights.
"She has one of those smiles that just makes everybody smile," Dougherty said. "This is such a great group of kids and a great group of parents, no one's knocking on my door saying 'my kid's not getting the ball enough' or 'my kid's not playing enough.' Lainey has never been that way, she's always saying how much she appreciates the opportunity, appreciates all the help and wants to give it all back to her teammates."
So far, she's meshed perfectly with Jordyn Thomas, the 6-foot-1 senior forward's passing, shooting and defense blending perfectly with Allen's athleticism and energy. Allen is still getting used to the increased attention coming her way as her name starts to appear more and more prominently on scouting reports, but that's where she trusts her teammates.
Mostly, the Colonials are just happy to have her back. From the knowing tap on the shoulder from Flanagan leaving the locker room to the crowd around Allen celebrating a fourth quarter and-one opportunity, PW has rallied around Allen as strongly as ever this season.
"It's amazing seeing everyone so hyped and energy-wise, it just makes you feel good about yourself being able to lift everyone up. Erin Daley said in a warm-up one game how much she loves hyping me up," Allen said. "I think we all have that love for hyping each other up on the court. It's just so much fun being able to play together at last. Even the juniors and sophomores, we love seeing them so passionate about playing with us knowing they're going to carry it on when we're gone."
PLYMOUTH WHITEMARSH 47, UPPER DUBLIN 28
Thursday's game was the back end of an unusual back-to-back between the programs.
PW had originally been scheduled to visit Upper Dublin on Dec. 21, but that game had to be postponed and was rescheduled for Thursday. Then, earlier in the week, both the Colonials and Cardinals lost their scheduled games on Tuesday so thanks to some quick wrangling by the respective ADs, Dougherty and UD coach Morgan Funsten, the teams moved their second scheduled date up a few weeks.
The Colonials, boosted by some hot shooting by Abby Sharpe and Erin Daley, jumped to an early 17-2 lead over the hosts before Upper Dublin steadied a bit in the second quarter to close within 28-13 at the half. UD got its turnovers under control in the third quarter and chipped the lead all the way down to nine entering the final quarter.
Once PW forced the Cardinals to come out of their zone, the hosts had no answer. Daley, who scored a game-high 16 points, scored five in the final frame and had a key play where she buried a three, then got fouled after the shot to give PW another possession. Using it to full effect, the junior found Thomas for a 3-pointer, putting PW back up by 20 and ending a barrage that had turned the game completely around.
Amy Ngo's 10 points paced Upper Dublin. Sharpe added 11 for PW to give the Colonials three double-figure scorers along with Allen's 12.
Plymouth-Whitemarsh 17 | 11 | 6 | 13 || 47
Upper Dublin: 2 | 11 | 12 | 3 || 28
PW: Erin Daley 16, Lainey Allen 12, Abby Sharpe 11, Jordyn Thomas 6, Kaitlyn Flanagan 2
UD: Amy Ngo 10, Geena Sarnoski 8, Colleen Klammer 6, Aditi Foster 4