Lenahan looking for South Philly-based glory

Novelty can easily engender nervousness no matter one’s accomplishments. Despite a decorated career at Haddon Township High School that yielded more than 1,000 points, 18-year-old Morgan Lenahan felt a tad timid when joining the basketball team at Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St. With the Saints at 21-0 ahead of today’s 6 p.m. playoff opener, though, the senior has served as a wonderful weapon in coach Andrea Peterson’s arsenal and hopes to help them to claim their third-straight parochial plaque.

“We all want to go out the same way, which is as champions,” the guard said Tuesday from her East Passyunk Crossing-situated secondary institution. “I was worried in the beginning about how I’d fit in, but this is a great group, and I’m really excited to see us take our game to the next level.”

Anyone with knowledge of the Saints’ campaign might read that last statement with a touch of pity for the opposition. The young ladies have simply been annihilating their foes and have not surrendered more than 25 points since Jan. 18 when they edged Cardinal O’Hara, 62-56. Having gone 31-0 last season, they take an impressive winning streak into tonight’s tilt, and Lenahan certainly wants to have three more victories enter their ledger as the Catholic League looks to crown its next conqueror.

“I watched this team last year and thought they were amazing,” the sniper said of the club that captured the Catholic, City, and State championships and earned the top spot in USA Today’s Super 25 girls’ basketball rankings. “I’m sure there were people who doubted what we could do this year, but we’ve shown that we can compete with anyone.”

With input from a few contemporaries, including Neumann-Goretti alumnus A.J. Timbers, now a freshman at Towson University, Lenahan elected to leave the Garden State for South Philly to further her education and athletic pedigree and has reaped rewards for doing both.

“The teachers here are so dedicated, and they’ve helped me to improve my grades and believe in myself more as a student,” she beamed. “Everyone involved with the basketball team has been a blessing, too, so I’m really happy to call myself a Saint.”

Only hours away from her South Philly-based playoff debut, Lenahan has heard that many supporters expect the squad to enjoy an easy road to the Feb. 22 title game at The Palestra and though she would love to cut a piece of the next as her own 11 days from now when The University of Pennsylvania venue hosts the duel, she approaches basketball the same way she tackles life, one challenge at a time.

“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done when you’re starting something new,” the sage, whose junior year Haddon Township unit fell just short of a state title, said. “Everyone wants the Catholic League championship. We have to keep believing that we want it more.”

Lenahan has never lacked conviction when handling the rock. With her father, Tim, as a massive influence, she took to the game incredibly early, even recalling dribbling while donning a diaper as her patriarch oversaw coaching duties at the Haddon Heights-based St. Rose of Lima School. A Mount Ephram-situated league commenced her journey, yet, sadly, her father would see her play only one time before passing away when she was seven.

“It’s still difficult to deal with the loss, but I try my hardest just to keep moving,” the adolescent said of her maturation. “I think he would be proud of how I’ve tried to grow as a person and how I’m striving to succeed as a basketball player.”

Soccer served as another athletic helper, but Lenahan hoisted hoops to the top of her priorities because of her competence and curiosity to see how far she could advance as a competitor. Crediting the game for enhancing her demeanor and discipline, she realized as a freshman that devoting herself to becoming better could better her chances at strengthening her overall identity.

“So much about this game reminds me to press on,” she said. “Even when balls aren’t going in, I know that I can keep trying to shoot my way out of any slump.”

Haddon Heights had to have mourned her departure as a member of the Hawks, who last season, in addition to the aforementioned state runner-up status, scored the South Jersey Group 1 title, won the Patriot Division, and stood atop the Colonial Conference with a 16-0 mark. Seeking a new challenge, she transferred to Neumann-Goretti where she has offered senior leadership and, through her committing to Wagner University, a glimpse at what can come from courting achievement.

“I do like having a voice on this team,” Lenahan, one of four Saints to sign with Division I schools and among the five who received McDonald’s All-American Game nominations, said. “We’re the defending champions, so we know what’s on our opponents’ minds, and that’s extra motivation.”

Minus any reservations about her talent and ability to contribute to Peterson’s plans, the 5-foot-9 presence hopes she and her mates can tower above whomever they face on whatever court. With her college decision made and a major in criminal justice chosen, she knows the summer and fall will be filled with great expectations and is praying that late winter and early spring will be similarly fruitful.

“I’m definitely proud of this team,” Lenahan said. “We want to come through for one another and for this school.” SPR

Contact Editor Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.

Morgan Lenahan and the Neumann-Goretti Saints have crushed recent foes as part of their march to a 21-0 record.

Photo by Tina Garceau