Reaching new heights

Led by Alison Ahern, Cherry Hill West seniors have helped transform the future of the program

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun: Since joining the team as a freshman, Cherry Hill West senior Alison Ahern was immediately an impact player in the Olympic Conference. Now in the midst of her final year with the Lions, Ahern is looking to put together yet another strong season alongside her teammates.

Before she played even a single second of high-school basketball, Alison Ahern already had it in her head that she wanted to score 1,000 points with Cherry Hill West.

The goal was there, it was just a matter of making sure it was realistic.

“When I went to school freshman year, I already had that goal in mind,” Ahern said. “I was really unsure at first of what high-school basketball would be like, but after I played my first game, I kind of realized it was absolutely attainable if I worked really hard at it.”

Now in the second half of her senior season, to say Ahern has worked really hard may still be selling short her accomplishments with the Lions. In her first three seasons with  West, she led the team in scoring all three years, surpassing the 1,000 point mark in the team’s final win of the season.

In dramatic fashion, Ahern scored a career high of 32 points in the 63-48 win over Woodrow Wilson and became the first girl to cross the 1,000-point threshold in the 21st century. 

Dan Butler, in the midst of his 12th season as head coach at West, said Ahern’s impact on the program has brought it to a new level.

“Her impact has been immense in multiple areas,” he noted. “You have her presence in the middle of the paint, and she’ll often draw double teams, so that has helped bring some confidence to surrounding players around her to be aggressive offensively and defensively.

“She’s been on an upward trajectory ever since her freshman year,” Butler added. “She’s drawn so much respect and attention from our opponents over the years, so her job’s gotten more difficult with her growing reputation. But she’s continued to step up to the challenge.”

In the four years before Ahern’s freshman year, the program won a combined 10 games. Meanwhile, the Lions won 32 games in Ahern’s first three seasons and are coming off back-to-back appearances in the NJSIAA sectional tournament. 

Butler said Ahern’s presence and innate basketball talent have certainly been strong components to build a team around, but plenty of credit also goes to the class with whom Ahern came to West. This year’s starting five includes Sophia Graffeo, Kayla Thompson, Michela Auguadro and Bella Sylvester, as well as Ahern. 

Together, they have had a substantial impact on the program, their coach said. 

“That class brought in five amazing athletes, and it was really all five of them that have changed this program together to make us a respectable, competitive team,” Butler explained. “Making the playoffs the past two years, hosting a playoff game last year … It’s a tribute and a credit to all five of our seniors on how they’ve been able to take this program to the best heights (it) has seen in decades.”

The group of girls Butler calls the Fab Five are all three-sport athletes who will graduate from West with an anticipated 53 varsity letters, as long as the spring seasons can be  played. 

Ahern said her success in the stat sheet each night, as well as the program’s recent achievements, are in large part due to the chemistry and high-level play of those around her. 

“Not only are they amazing athletes, but they’re amazing people, too, and we all have the same mindset when it comes to athletics,” she added. “I feel like we all have the same drive when we’re out there wanting to win and leave it all out there on the court, so it makes it easier to play together as a team.”