GIRLS BASKETBALL: Fortescue helps Plymouth Whitemarsh rally past Upper Dublin

Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Lauren Fortescue shoots a three pointer as Upper Dublin’s Cara Grebe defends January 30, 2018. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

UPPER MORELAND — From last summer to this summer, Lauren Fortescue’s growth in confidence was noticeable.

Last year, as a fresh high school graduate, Fortescue’s first look at college basketball came fast and furious. Now, with a year at Salisbury to her name, Fortescue carried herself much stronger on the court at the Philadelphia/Suburban Women’s College Basketball League this summer.

The Plymouth Whitemarsh graduate noticed it too.

“It definitely felt a little different because I knew what was expected,” Fortescue said. “Last summer I kind of thought it would be easier for some odd reason. Now, I understand everyone is at least just as good as you are when you get to college.”

A 1,000-point scorer at PW, Fortescue and fellow 2018 classmates Taylor O’Brien (Bucknell) and Ali Diamond (Georgetown lacrosse) helped the Colonials to two of the best seasons in program history that ended with state playoff appearances.

She appeared in 20 of the Sea Gulls’ 27 games last winter, averaging 2.1 points per game in a little more than 10 minutes per game. Making the jump from high school to college is tough on most any athlete and Fortescue noted there was a definite difference she worked through all season.

“In high school, you’re the big fish, you’re a star on your team and I had to adjust to everyone being just as good as you,” Fortescue said. “I just had to work hard and follow what the coaches were telling me.”

Fortescue’s summer league came to an end Tuesday when her Royal Blue squad, composed mainly of Kutztown and other Salisbury players, lost in the league’s playoff quarterfinals.

With a majority of the players in the league already having at least a year of college experience on their ledger, the pace of play is very quick. That was an adjustment last year and Fortescue is far from the first to say it’s an aspect of the game that takes some getting used to.

Summer league games don’t have a shot clock, but the more veteran players definitely try to make their decisions like there is.

“The shot clock really changes things, in high school you can run plays over and over again,” Fortescue. “In college, you have 30 seconds to make something up and if you don’t get it, that’s it.”

Throughout the summer, Fortescue spent a lot of time bringing the ball up the court, something she didn’t do much of in high school but knows she’ll have to keep working at in college. The rising sophomore added playing with her summer teammates from Kutztown and other colleges, along with the opposing teams, helped her keep getting better.

“This summer league, there’s so many talented girls,” Fortescue said. “It helps we’re playing against Division II teams like Jefferson and University of Sciences. They’re good players and it’s a really competitive league.”

Leaving high school, Fortescue knew improving on defense would be a huge factor in her development at the next level. It’s still something she said she needs to get better at but the guard didn’t shy away from it all summer long.

Tuesday, she spent most of her time on the court guarding Holy Family junior Anjelai Hayes, a very quick and athletic guard. It was a definite challenge, but one Fortescue was confident in herself to take on.

“My coach really emphasizes it in our practices too and she knew it would be a big adjustment from high school to college,” Fortescue said. “I tried to pick out the best player just to try and challenge myself because I knew it was something I needed to work on.”

WHALEN GETS A HEAD START

Annie Whalen is perfect fit for the type of guard Kutztown women’s basketball looks for.

It makes sense that the Archbishop Wood graduate is heading to Kutztown to continue her basketball career and she spent part of her summer getting a first look at college competition. It also helped she got a head start on building an on-court connection with a couple future teammates in Karen Lapkiewicz, Gabbi Wright and fellow freshman Casey Remolde.

“It was great, it was definitely a really good experience for this upcoming season for me,” Whalen said after her Royal Blue squad fell in the league playoffs Tuesday. “It was awesome playing with so many players who are more experienced. I got to see how much faster and stronger they are.”

Whalen, who began her career at Villa Joseph Marie, was an impact player her two years at Wood. The 5-foot-9 guard, who can play either as a point guard or off the ball equally well, was a first team All-Catholic pick this past winter.

It’s her complete game that stands out as Whalen can knock down 3-pointers, drive to the rim and either finish or get fouled, she rebounds well and finds open teammates. Tuesday, Whalen tied for a team-best 14 points, a mark she shared with rising Kutztown senior Karen Lapkiewicz, a St. Basil grad who plays a pretty similar game.

“Having Karen and Gabbi (Wright), it’s nice to be able to talk to them about college, not just basketball either,” Whalen said. “All the girls were really nice, I love their offense, they’re looking to just run and play.”

On top of playing summer league games, Whalen said she’s been hitting the gym plenty this summer and trying to round out her game. She had seven rebounds on Tuesday against a Sky Blue squad with plenty of veteran Holy Family players on its roster.

Offensively, the Wood grad said she’s been putting a lot of shots up and honing her mid-range and pull-up jump shot based off advice she’s gotten from her veteran teammates.

Whalen said she’s a little nervous to play with a shot clock for the first time but excited at the same time. Wood is known for its methodical offense with a lot of cuts and ball movement, which leads to possessions that last longer than the 30 seconds a college clock allows for.

“I love going faster,” Whalen said. “It was definitely and adjustment getting used to how fast it is, even without a shot clock here. They’re looking to push it every time down where in high school, teams would slow it down.”

Due to the schedule Wood plays, Whalen’s gone up against taller and bigger post players before, but it’s different when those players have been in a college conditioning program for a couple years.

“Everyone is bigger and stronger, there’s no weak link,” Whalen said. “I learned I’m definitely going to have to work on my defense against the bigger girls.”

At Wood, Whalen was also a strong lacrosse player and surpassed 100 career goals during her senior season. The guard said she liked having a second sport to not only get a bit of a break from basketball but because a lot of the movements and cuts were similar so she was still working on the same skills just in a different setting.

Even with summer league finished, Whalen said she’s going to keep working on her game. Asked what would constitute a successful freshman season, the guard had a simple answer.

“Getting playing time for Kutztown, definitely,” Whalen said. “I’m just focused on fitting in and maybe finding a spot in the rotation.”

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