Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
Abby Sharpe broke the mold with her junior season at Plymouth Whitemarsh.
It was a process that started last summer on the AAU circuit with the Lady Runnin’ Rebels then only picked up more kinetic energy as the Colonials started winning games in December and never looked back. Along the way, more and more colleges started taking notice, including the University of Pennsylvania.
Sharpe committed to the local Ivy League program this weekend, pleading to join the Quakers on Friday and making her official announcement Saturday morning.
Sharpshooting PW junior Abby Sharpe (above) committed to Penn over the weekend. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Mike McLaughlin just runs a super, professional program and I have a lot of respect for him as a coach. Obviously, the history there is incredible and it’s something I want to be a part of and the school itself, it kind of sells itself with the education, being in the city and the overall experience I’ll have there,” Sharpe said. “As I started talking with the coaches more and visited again, I felt I was comparing every other school to Penn and I realized I didn’t know what other school I could want that was going to beat out Penn.”
Sharpe was a role player her first two seasons with PW, albeit a very good one, who earned Honorable Mention All-SOL Liberty honors as a sophomore. She was also mostly a shooter, albeit a very good one, but anyone who was around her enough knew there was so much more she had to offer.
If Sharpe was going to break out of that mold of shooting specialist, she was going to have to believe she could do what everyone else saw in her. The skillset was there, the work ethic was there, all Sharpe needed was a little bit of a push in the right direction.
The 5-foot-11 guard started playing with the Runnin’ Rebels after her freshman year at Plymouth Whitemarsh. Coming back to a program that saw a lot in her and playing on a very good team that ended up winning the Hoop Group Showcase League provided that push.
“Confidence is the biggest thing that I’ve seen grow over this year. I’ve always known I was a good, solid player, I had a good shot and I was athletic but to be able to get the ball and look to attack more or have more of that aggressive style, it takes a lot of confidence, at least for me, so that was the biggest thing I’ve seen grow,” Sharpe said. “A lot of it came from last year’s AAU season.
“It was my second year with Bill McDonough Jr. and he just really believed in me and let me go out and do my thing. He gave me the green light and it really helped me as a player to go and build my confidence.”
Sharpe (above) and Plymouth Whitemarsh went undefeated in 2021-22, winning the District 1 6A and PIAA Class 6A championships. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Aside from three games she had to miss in late December, Sharpe was consistently solid for the Colonials this winter and ended up leading the 34-0 state champions in scoring at 14.3 ppg. It was not all off long-distance jumpers either as Sharpe grew into an aggressive, rim-attacking player who excelled not only at drawing contact, but knocking down the following free throws at an 87 percent clip.
Sharpe had a then-career high 21 points in the team’s January 27th win over Abington, but it was the team’s film session afterward that proved even more impactful. The PW coaches, who also quickly picked up on Sharpe’s newfound confidence, wanted to open up even more for her.
“Abby showed a lot of growth coming out of that game, she recognized some things she needed to improve on and things we needed her to do, like be that secondary ball-handler and use her athleticism in the open court,” Colonials coach Dan Dougherty said. “It’s something we kept telling her repeatedly, use your athleticism and don’t limit yourself to thinking you’re just a three-point shooter, there’s a lot more to your game.”
It was also around that time that Penn entered the picture. Sharpe had exited her second summer with the Rebels holding six Division I offers and had her first contact with Penn in January before the conversations really picked up in early March.
Sharpe visited the campus and picked up a roster spot offer — Ivy League programs don’t give out athletic scholarships — on March 12. The junior definitely didn’t rush into it, but she did get a quick sense that Penn had a different feel.
“I definitely fell in love with it over these past couple of months,” Sharpe said. “When I visited for the first time, you know how people always say ‘when you’re there, you’re going to know and you’re going to feel it,’ when I was there, it felt different. Once I got the offer, I was super, super excited, it was probably the most excited I’d been with an offer.”
Sharpe led PW in scoring in every state playoff game and capped her season and the team’s dream run with a career-best 26 points in the PIAA 6A title game. She has watched the game and what continues to stand out is the shared confidence and preparation the entire team had going into the game.
In the Giant Center hallway after the game, Sharpe could hardly believe she’d put up that kind of performance and even having the chance to watch the team’s game film, it’s still a bit of a surreal feeling.
“It’s cool to look back and actually see the environment we were playing in,” Sharpe said. “I thought it was one of my best games, if not the best game I’ve had in a season so to have that be a state championship game, it was a really great confidence boost again. It’s another shoutout to my teammates again, a lot of those points were off amazing feeds, they were finding me and I was feeling it.”
PW head coach Dan Dougherty (left) and Sharpe embrace after the District 1 6A championship game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
It didn’t take long for Sharpe to get back to work and back to winning. She’s back with the Rebels for a third summer and the team was already out for a HGSL warm-up tournament last weekend. With her commitment now out of the way, Sharpe said she’s looking forward to playing free and without pressure this summer while still continuing to work away in the gym.
With her and classmate Erin Daley the only starters coming back for the Colonials next season, it’ll be a different looking PW team. Dougherty noted and Sharpe even echoed there will be more on her pallet next season, so the guard is already planning ahead.
Sharpe figures to take on more of a point guard role next season and the Colonials will also likely need her to guard up against bigger players more. Offensively, Dougherty said there have been some things they’ve been working on with Sharpe that haven’t factored in yet but will likely help her next year to counter the increase in attention sure to come from opposing defenses.
“I feel like I’m even more so locked in, I’m taking this ‘‘offseason’ for high school to focus on strength training and individual workouts to work on my handle, my form and keep my craft up,” Sharpe said. “With AAU, I think we have a really good team this year so with me being committed now, I think I can focus on the AAU season itself and not have to think about the process, which can be overwhelming at times.”
Dougherty was also excited that Sharpe decided to stay local for the next phase of her career. The program has continued to support its alumni playing in college wherever they’ve gone but it’s always a nice plus to have someone at the next level that’s not too far away to go and watch.
“She might be the most heavily recruited kid I’ve ever had, so many schools were interested in her,” Dougherty said. “When kids choose local, not only can we go and keep seeing her play, I also think it’s a point of pride for the area.
“You want to keep your best players local and that Big Five feel is so much better when there are local kids playing.”
Along with her coaches at PW and the Rebels, Sharpe said her parents Cliff and Jessica have been a huge factor in her success. Her dad is her unofficial designated rebounder and the one who can usually get her into the gym to work on days she otherwise doesn’t feel like it.
Sharpe broke the mold going from sophomore year to junior year. Now, she’s looking to prove that was only a small upgrade over what’s yet to come.
“I just had so much more confidence in the high school preseason and I think my coaches saw that in me and thought ‘she really is a different player than she was last year.’ They told me that and it only gave me more confidence,” Sharpe said. “They put me in positions to succeed and they said ‘if you get the ball, you can attack,’ or ‘if you run, we’ll find you in transition.’ It was game after game and especially after winning more, it just kept building off each other."