In less than two seasons, the sophomore already has more than 500 career points and is helping the Lions to their best season in at least seven years.
Editor’s Note: Each month from September through June, The Cherry Hill Sun will select one athlete from Cherry Hill High School East or Cherry Hill High School West as its Athlete of the Month.
There’s been a lot more jubilation, celebration and winning for the Cherry Hill High School West girls basketball program this season.
After years of struggling to win more than two or three games in a season, a young core of Lions is leading a resurgence. Cherry Hill West enters its Feb. 2 game at Paul VI High School with an 8–8 record. With a little less than one month left in the regular season, the Lions’ win total is already its highest since the 2011–12 season.
At the heart of Cherry Hill West’s turnaround is sophomore Alison Ahern, a talented player who has scored points in bunches since joining the team and has helped create a new, positive energy around the program.
“We’re definitely a growing team,” Ahern said. “We have a lot of younger talent that’s willing to put in the work and there’s a lot of energy.”
Ahern entered high school with plenty of experience. In addition to playing basketball for Carusi Middle School, Ahern began playing at the club level for the Mid-Atlantic Heat.
“Club basketball has made me more competitive, faster, stronger,” she said.
Ahern also has the advantage of being one of the tallest players on her team. Ahern said she’s always been one of the tallest girls in her class since elementary school and has learned how to use her 5-foot, 11-inch height to her advantage.
“I was always put down at the low post and told to post up, use your height and go for the layup,” she said.
Ahern is so much more than just an inside scorer, however. Head coach Dan Butler believes Ahern’s versatility is what makes her such a dangerous threat for opponents.
“She’s got a lot of tools to be a higher level player,” Butler said. “Obviously size is something you can’t teach, which is one advantage. But she knows how to use her body well. She has a smooth touch so she can shoot from the outside, which really makes her difficult to defend.”
Ahern made the varsity team as a freshman and immediately had a positive impact, totaling more than 270 points to lead her team in scoring. Not too bad, considering Ahern wasn’t even sure whether she’d make the varsity team.
“I just wanted to pretty much give 100 percent, whether I played varsity or JV,” Ahern said of her expectations as a freshman. “I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.”
Ahern’s scoring even more points in 2018–19, averaging just under 16 per game to lead the Lions. She’s also more than halfway to the 1,000-career point milestone just a year and a half into her career.
However, the most important statistic for Ahern is the win total, and that is where the Lions have seen the most improvement. Despite playing in a division with tough private schools such as Bishop Eustace, Paul VI and Camden Catholic, the Lions have been around the .500 mark most of the year and have a chance to win double-digit games for the first time since 2010–11.
Butler said the energy around the program is greatly improved and believes some of the players have fed off the work ethic Ahern has brought to the program.
“It’s contagious,” he said.” One person working hard and doing things the right way is contagious. It’s a great way to lead by example. And of course, the winning makes it more fun and a higher-energy environment.”
Another thing the Lions haven’t done in a while is qualify for the playoffs. Cherry Hill West last made the postseason in 2014, and Ahern said this year’s team is ready to end the drought.
“Obviously, the West program hasn’t (made the playoffs) in a little bit, so we definitely want to do that,” she said. “We’re definitely going to go up from this season.”