Back in 2002, a group of us decided to start what would be the Ashland University Men’s Club Basketball team. I’m unsure if it still exists, but it was a slew of us who were sick of dominating the intramural circuit1 and wanted something different. We’d practice a few times per week, implement a few plays, and then travel by van to play against Division III teams like John Carroll and Mount Union, oftentimes getting destroyed. We had uniforms and everything.
Back in the early 2000s, Ashland was mostly known for their student dining. Sure, there were several very good programs (including the business school which I attended) but ask any parent who took their kid to Ashland on a college visit and the universal takeaway was the food. One of the hidden secrets, however, is their sports were sneaky good. The baseball team made the College World Series twice during my four years. The women’s soccer team was always a national player at the Division II level. Football had yet to really get put over, but this would soon change.
One of our responsibilities as Mens’ Club Team—you know, outside of getting waxed by most of central Ohio—was to be scout team for the Women’s team as they would take on various GLIAC opponents. It was pretty fun, to be honest. Think back to when you were little and you were playing basketball in your driveway with friends and each of you “were” an actual player. At this level, if the shooting guard on their upcoming opponent had an itchy trigger finger, I’d be firing threes off screens.2 If they were more of the defensive mold, I’d facilitate and then lock down at the other end. Back then, the girls were pretty good, but they were typically middle-of-the-pack with one or two nods when it came to conference awards.
Which is why what happened on Friday night couldn’t have made me more proud.
If you had not been paying attention to Division II Women’s Basketball,3 you may have not noticed that Ashland had spent the entire regular season rampaging through their schedule, winning their games by an average of 30.2 points. As a team, they hit 41 percent of their threes, 78 percent of their free throws, and assisted, on average, 24.4 times per contest.
On Friday, the Lady Eagles finished their season an absolutely perfect 37-0—the best record ever by an NCAA Division II women’s team—defeating Virginina Union, 93-77, for the Division II National Championship. As they’d been wont to do, they rained threes like peak-form Cavaliers, and used a 14-6 run to end the third quarter, propelling them to the double-digit victory. There are a lot of impressive characteristics of this team, including the fact they’re all from Ohio. But the craziest part of all of this? It’s their second title in five years, and they were runner-up in 2012.
So this happened last night.. pic.twitter.com/eE4Rw2H9Sp
— Ashland University Eagles (@goashlandeagles) March 25, 2017
Little Ashland—tucked almost perfectly between Cleveland and Columbus, known mostly for the Route 250 exit and the pristine GoAsis that sits right off the highway—is quietly dominating the Women’s basketball circuit like the UCONN of Division II.
Some other stats to soak in:4
It’s truly one of the more incredible, under-discussed stories in Ohio athletics. Ashland has always been a big landing spot of kids from Holmes County schools (one of my teammates on the Club Team was from Rittman), and the fact that these schools are producing quality athletes at the high school level certainly helps. But as high school women’s hoops in Ohio grows, it’s Ashland that continues to be in the middle of it all.
A good friend of mine, who played on men’s team at Ashland when we were both there, has stuck on in the school’s alumni department. When we (along with another friend who played) were discussing the old Scout Team days and how we would give the mid-2000s team a run for their money, he wasted no time telling me we wouldn’t stand a chance against this squad. “All I could tell you is ‘good luck,'” he quipped. I’m glad I got out when I did, but it’s been fun to watch from afar.