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The Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Player of the Year Flanagan shined by sharing the spotlight at PW

Kaitlyn Flanagan was constantly in the spotlight, but thrived by never hoarding it for herself.

In nearly every pivotal play of Plymouth Whitemarsh’s perfect 34-0 season and even more so in the postseason, Flanagan was there, usually right on the edges of that spotlight giving the shine to someone else by simply playing her part. If the Colonials were the show, then the senior point guard was the conductor – the one making it all go without needing to be the center of attention.

The Colonials’ ringleader proved indispensable, the engine of the state’s best team in its largest classification and capped a stellar high school career in the most fitting way possible, utterly dominating the state championship game while only scoring one basket.

Flanagan’s mastery has led the senior to be selected The Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media All-Area Player of the Year.

“Looking back, it had a different feel honestly and that’s the best way I can describe it,” Flanagan said. “The buy-in that I know everybody had and the way everybody from the get-go knew what the goal was, every single individual committed themselves to that goal. That’s really what gave us this run.”

For anyone else, it would have seemed unfair. Flanagan walked into the Colonials’ program as a freshman and was expected to take over as the starting point guard immediately. That alone was already a lot to ask from a first-year player, but then consider she was also following the most decorated player in program history in Taylor O’Brien and the scale of it starts to come into focus.

Had Flanagan tried to be a second coming of O’Brien, who scored more points than anyone else in Plymouth Whitemarsh’s storied history, it wouldn’t have worked. Instead, Flanagan was committed to doing what she did best and not trying to mimic what anyone who preceded her had done.

“I knew my strengths were in a different area and my coaches told me I didn’t need to be the next Taylor O’Brien, I just needed to be Kate Flanagan,” the senior guard said. “My coaches, I think they sometimes saw more in me than I saw in myself. They always pushed me to give more, not in the sense that I had to give more and be like another player, but to max out on my own potential.”

Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Kaitlyn Flanagan (5) shoots a layup against Perkiomen Valley during Tuesday’s PIAA quarterfinal at Upper Dublin. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

Statistically, the 5-foot-8 senior seems like an outlier. For the season, Flanagan posted a 7.7 points per game average – that was fifth on the team – and some nights didn’t even get to five field goal attempts.

If her individual numbers aren’t eye-popping, although the 5.5 assists per game (187 total in 34 games) stands out, the career numbers do a lot of talking. In her four seasons, PW was 98-13 and the Colonials won three straight outright SOL division titles, plus this winter’s haul of an SOL Tournament title, District 1 6A champion and the PIAA 6A crown last month.

“If you’ve never seen our team play, you wouldn’t know,” Colonials coach Dan Dougherty said. “People that only look at boxscores see a kid who averages seven-and-half points, that’s always the first category people want to go to and miss that she’s the school’s all-time assist leader or overlook that she is the definition of someone who makes everyone else around her better.

“While we have all this height and all this skill on our team, without her, it would have been a struggle. The leadership is what really separates her.”

Don’t think Flanagan couldn’t score, she had 910 career points, but she’s a passer first and leaves PW as the all-time assists leader with 510 career helpers. That was the skill that was most eye-catching, from the pinpoint outlet passes that fueled PW’s playoff run to the drive-and-kicks that generated innumerable easy looks to the little drop-offs or shovels in the lane that had defenses looking around for shadows as another Colonial dropped in a clean lay-up.

Flanagan described her job as doing what was needed to help her team win. Some games, it meant looking for her shot more, other times it was stepping up on the defensive or finessing the accelerator on the Colonials’ pace of play but it was never a solo act.

“I think if you only looked at boxscores, then I’d probably be a very deceiving person,” Flanagan said. “I’m very grateful for the players I had around me, I wouldn’t be the same player I am without them.”

As a little kid, Flanagan split her time between basketball and soccer, where she played as a center back, but quickly found herself putting a lot of extra time into hoops. She’d eventually leave travel soccer behind but did still play for PW and felt her two-sport background did help her development as a point guard.

The turning point competitively for Flanagan was her first exposure to the AAU level in middle school going into high school. Seeing what the basketball world outside the southeastern PA bubble had to offer gave merit to all the additional work Flanagan, who played AAU with the Comets organization, had already started doing on her own.

“That pushed me to work harder because no matter how good you think you are, there’s always someone better,” Flanagan said. “Not saying I even was that good, it’s just something I’ve always gone by and if you’re only working just as hard as someone in front of you, then they’re going to stay in front of you.”

Kaitlyn Flanagan (5) of Plymouth-Whitemarsh dribbles against Mount Lebanon in the PIAA 6A girls basketball championship at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA on Saturday, March 26, 2022.
(Mark Palczewski – For MediaNews Group)

As much as Flanagan was PW’s leader on the floor and the one putting her teammates in good positions over and over, she took as much from them as she gave out in assists. Dougherty and Flanagan both felt her sophomore year was where the guard started to show more of a leadership responsibility, but it was a designation Flanagan continued to work at having not really seen herself in that type of role as a freshman.

A three-year captain, Flanagan felt she really broke through as a leader this season. Calling out plays always came naturally, it was then having the confidence to be able to direct her teammates on the floor like getting a shooter to the right spot or a screener set up on the proper side of the floor where Flanagan saw the most growth.

“I saw a change that she started to realize it wasn’t good enough just to be a good player, she had to be a vocal leader,” Dougherty said. “Communication is a huge part of the game and you have to demonstrate what that looks like as a captain. I thought her focus this year, that absolute ‘we’re not losing a game and we’re not losing, ever’ mentality was a turning point for the team.

“The kids started to pick up on and adopt her work ethic, and that’s something Kate has been doing all four years.”

Flanagan lauded her teammates over and over again while talking about the season, saying if they hadn’t been so receptive to her directions and commands on the floor, she couldn’t have done her job. She also extended a ton of credit to Dougherty and assistant coaches TJ DeLucia and Bridgette McKnight for their untold hours of preparation and dedication to pushing the Colonials to reach their goals.

It’s not a point guard’s role to eclipse the entire spotlight, but to bring others into it and Flanagan had no lack of motivation to make sure that happened with this team. Embracing a “one more” mindset in the postseason was easy, just as it wasn’t a burden to pull and control the strings of the Colonials’ various pieces without ever getting them tangled because Flanagan wanted to do it for her teammates.

“If you’re not in the room with the doors closed, people don’t know what these girls have gone through and I’m just very, very proud of this group,” Flanagan said. “For it to come together like that, with all the hard work and the things everyone had to overcome, it’s more special being a part of it.”

Plymouth Whitemarsh’s (5) Kaitlyn Flanagan comes in to shoot against Great Valley in the first quarter of District playoffs Wednesday evening at home. (PETE BANNAN – DAILY LOCAL)

Save for the occasional outburst of celebration at a teammate’s score or play, Flanagan usually maintained a pretty stoic approach on the court. As this season started nearing the end, the senior was more cognizant of that and made sure she took the time to enjoy it, whether it was donning a green St. Patrick’s day hat for a post-game interview or a little extra bounce in one of those post-hoop celebratory shouts and let her personality out a little more.

Flanagan spent most of the season avoiding the direct spotlight, but it was all hers on the bus ride after beating Cedar Cliff in the state semifinals. With the flashlight of a teammate’s cell phone taking the place of a stage light, there was the senior substituting a hairbrush for a microphone, belting out a Disney song as part of PW’s traditional post-victory karaoke session on the trip home.

Dougherty remembered that moment well, as he did the reaction Flanagan had after every big victory during the postseason.

“Something I’ve always loved about Kate is that the process of winning is what she enjoys the most,” Dougherty said. “For her to have fun, winning is a big part of it. In order for her to enjoy it, she wants to win and after certain moments, like the Cedar Cliff game or winning (the district title) down at Temple, she just had sheer joy on her face when we won.”

PW junior Abby Sharpe is expecting to take on more point guard responsibility next year and the recent Penn commit said she’s already started leaning on Flanagan for insight and advice before the senior leaves for Holy Cross.

Moving on to the next level is something Flanagan always wanted and Holy Cross felt like the perfect fit for the guard from the beginning. Much like how she learned to be a leader and winner at PW, she hopes to repeat the process at the college level and continue contributing to a winning program.

“Kate wore No. 5, before her it was Lauren Fortescue’s number and Alynna Williams’ number before that, so I always associate that number with a gritty guard, high basketball IQ and just tough,” Dougherty said. “I can remember back thinking ‘what am I going to do when Alynna leaves,’ and in comes Taylor O’Brien. Then as Taylor’s leaving, in comes Kaitlyn Flanagan.

“I don’t know how you replace any of those kids, but like we couldn’t ask Kate to be Taylor O’Brien, you can’t ask anyone to be Kaitlyn Flanagan. You don’t replace someone like that, you just cherish the time you had with them.”

Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s Kaitlyn Flanagan (right) gets a hug from her coach in the final minutes against Mount Lebanon in the PIAA 6A girls basketball championship at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA on Saturday, March 26, 2022.
(Mark Palczewski – For MediaNews Group)

The 2021-22 Colonials have ensured a legacy that will last forever as a perfect state championship team, which is more than enough for Flanagan. Having the accomplishments of her team taking center stage was all she could ask for as a point guard.

At the same time, Flanagan knew there were a lot of eyes on her, even if she tried to keep the spotlight from shining solely on her.

“I would hope people just remember me by the way I was able to make other people better,” Flanagan said. “Being a leader and bringing others up is something that I hope I’m remembered for; just being that good teammate is something that’s important to me and I think that would be a cool way to be talked about.”

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