From role player to a captain and go-to scorer, junior guard adjusts to a new role on the court
NOTE: Eastern has a “bye” week this weekend, as it prepares for the 2012-13 Big Sky Conference debut on Dec. 20 at Weber State. EWU will then play defending Big Sky regular-season and tournament champion Idaho State in Pocatello on Dec. 22, before heading home for Christmas break.
By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information
Just a few games into her junior campaign, 6-foot guard Aubrey Ashenfelter has already logged nearly 1,500 minutes for the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team. The Portland, Ore., native was an important part of the team from the moment she arrived on campus back in 2010.
But now as a junior, and the second-most experienced player on the team, Ashenfelter’s role is changing and evolving.
After two years as a role player, who was averaging 4.7 points per game as both a point guard and wing, Ashenfelter is now a team captain, a key perimeter defender, and a go-to scorer for the Eags.
When EWU lost nearly 50 percent of its scoring from a year ago with the graduation of Big Sky MVP Brianne Ryan and second-team point guard Chene Cooper, the team knew it would have to undergo a transformation to make up for the void.
Much of the personnel remained the same, but the roles and responsibilities of those players are different, especially for Ashenfelter.
Knowing this, Ashenfelter put in the work over the summer to improve her shooting, strength and conditioning - and she has already seen results. Her field goal percentage has improved from 33.5 in 2011-12 to 42.5 percent through the first eight games of the 2012-13 season. She also leads the team this year in 3-point field goal percentage at 41.7, which ranks fifth in the Big Sky Conference.
The coaching staff has recognized this hard work and is encouraging Ashenfelter to be more aggressive and take shots. Right now, she is averaging just under 10 points per game, but her coaches, teammates and Ashenfelter herself expect that to go up as she continues to adjust to the new role.
Your first two years in the program, you were a solid role player. What is it like now being one of the captains?
“It’s definitely a tough transition - going from being a person that plays a role and does what other people want, to now being a leader and telling people what to do. It has been hard, but I feel that throughout the year, I will continue to get better at it.”
How are you adjusting to having a bigger scoring and offensive responsibility?
“The coaches are definitely telling me to shoot more. Some games, it’s easy when I have good looks, but other games, I really need to work for the shots, which is different than in years past.”
Now that you are entering the prime of your career at Eastern, what do you hope to accomplish on the team?
“Obviously, I want to get acknowledged for playing well, scoring and make all-conference teams. But mostly, I just want to be a good teammate. I want to be able to lead this team and be a go-to player on the floor.”
Earlier in your career, you shot the ball at about 34 percent. This year, you have brought it up to a respectable 42.5 percent. What would you say is the biggest reason for this improvement?
“Over the summer, I was in the gym a lot. I’ve been working with Coach Lowe on my shot a lot. Also, I’ve been lifting more, and that’s really helped me to be able to get my shots off.”
Describe your playing style. What are your biggest strengths?
“I’m a pretty good driver in terms of getting to the basket and finishing. I feel like I’m a pretty good team player as well. I look to distribute the ball and not just make shots for myself.”
What aspect of your game needs more work?
“I still need to become a better shooter off dribble and from three. Also, I tend to be a little bit turnover prone, so I’m working on that.”
The team lost Big Sky MVP Brianne Ryan and a prolific point guard in Chene Cooper, who together, accounted for 50 percent of the team’s scoring last year. How is the team adjusting and moving forward without these two impact players?
“In the beginning of the year, we were having a hard time. Most of us were role players. Those two scored a lot and we just helped out. Now we all get more shots, and Lexie Nelson helps us out a lot. I’m glad we have her - she accounts for a big part of our scoring. But I think all of us are taking more shots and adjusting well.”
What is the biggest difference in the team this year compared to the 2011-12 season?
“This year, we need to play more like a team. We are talented individually, but we don’t have scorers that just make things happen, so we need to run an offense and move the ball around to get good shots.”
What are the team’s expectations for the upcoming 20-game conference season?
“We are looking to get better. I don’t think we were ranked fairly coming into this season. I know we lost two good players, but I think we will surprise a lot of people."
When you started playing as a true freshman, was there anyone who took you under her wing and showed you the ropes of playing basketball at a college level?
“I actually had a lot of people. Julie Piper and Kyla Evans were big in helping me. Also Chene Cooper helped me a lot. I was having a hard time playing point guard as a freshman and she would take me aside and talk to me if I was getting down on myself.”
Overall, what would you say is your favorite thing about playing basketball?
“I love being a part of the team. They are my group of friends and I love coming here every day and working with them. I like working toward something with these people.”
You’ve been on the all-academic team two years in the row. How do you manage to play collegiate basketball and keep your grades up?
“It’s not easy, especially during the season. You miss a lot of classes, but coaches help us out and the professors help us a lot. They are really good about letting us make up work and rescheduling tests if we need it.”
What do you hope to do with your psychology degree once you graduate?
“I really want to be a school psychologist. I want to work with elementary school kids and just help them with their problems.”
If you can say anything to the fans reading this, what would it be?
“I hope you come to our games and enjoy watching us! And to all young basketball players out there, I want to encourage you to stick with it.”