Shawnee's Askin cherishes leading role

Camden head coach John Valore settles his team down, as Pemberton gets close in the final minutes of his team's South Jersey Group 2 championship win March 11, 2014. The SJ victory is the first in his career of 35 years at Cherry Hill East and a season at Cumberland before taking over the Camden program last year. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )

Shawnee's Olivia Askin is the only senior starter on a team that is one win from earning the school's first state championship, and she takes her role as elder stateswoman quite seriously.

Whether it's leading on or off the court, the 5-foot-8 Hofstra recruit has played a major role in the Renegades' success.

"As the only senior starter, I feel I have to lead, and I love the role," said Askin, whose 26-4 Shawnee team will play Paterson Eastside in the state Group 4 girls' basketball final at 2 p.m. Sunday at Toms River North.

She is also quite good at it.

While Askin is known for that fluid jumper that will take the heart out of any defense, her years of wisdom and influence on her teammates have been a major reason for Shawnee's success.

"She has been great, and I look at her as the most levelheaded player on our team," said junior Nikola Williams, who leads Shawnee with a 16.2 scoring average.

"We have a lot of juniors who are always playing a scrappy style, but she is the one who calms us down."

Just as impressive has been her consistency. This season, Askin is averaging 13.7 points. During Shawnee's five state tournament wins, she is averaging 13.8.

Among her memorable postseason games was Shawnee's 39-36 victory over defending state Group 4 champion Rancocas Valley. She had a team-high 13 points in the South Jersey semifinal.

"RV was the defending champion, and when we won that game, it was like our championship game," Askin said.

The only problem was that there was an actual championship game next, and Shawnee surely didn't suffer a letdown.

In fact, in its two games since its so-called championship over Rancocas Valley, Shawnee has beaten Lenape and Colts Neck by a combined 38 points.

Askin has long been known as a major perimeter threat, but first-year coach Chrissy McGovern says the senior is also a major contributor in other ways.

"She has transformed herself into an all-around basketball player," McGovern said. "When I first saw her, she was a sharpshooter, but now she covers the best opposing offensive player, she can take it to the basket, and it's really nice to see such a strong all-around game."

Askin committed to Hofstra during her junior year, and with the pressure of making a college choice behind her, she has been able to focus on her senior year.

"When I committed, I felt the weight of the world was off my shoulders," she said. "It has made for a great senior year."

That's for sure.

This season's success shouldn't come as a surprise because Shawnee has a strong girls' basketball history. Since 1997, the Renegades have won 22 or more games seven times.

Yet this year's team is the first in school history that will play in a state-championship game.

"This means so much to me," Askin said. "We never made it to the final, and it's an awesome feeling."

Regardless of the outcome Sunday, it promises to be an emotional game for Askin. As all seniors do, Askin wishes that this ride won't end until the Tournament of Champions.

"This year has been so much fun," she said. "I am jealous of the girls who get to play next year."

That is why she will try to make her final game or games as memorable as the last five during this impressive state-tournament run.