The Ashland Eagles women’s basketball team is one on a mission. It is coming off of a 2015-16 season of epic proportions, one that saw a record-setting performance by head coach Robyn Fralick. Including an exhibition bout against Bowling Green's Division I program, the Eagles won 22 consecutive games to start the season under their rookie head coach, as Fralick led them to a 31-2 record.
This year, they have some unfinished business.
The Eagles finished last season capturing both the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles, earning themselves the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. However, they prematurely saw their season end in a second-round NCAA loss to Drury, 86-60.
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“Last year was a huge motivator going into this season,” said junior Laina Snyder, the Eagles' star forward. “It was hard seeing all of the potential we had fall short of what we could have accomplished. As a result, this year we have made national championship talk part of our vocabulary. Last year it was always a dream but not something we frequently talked about. This year we have familiarized ourselves with talk of that being our ultimate goal, and we make an emphasis to train as if we are training for the national championship.”
Snyder is off to a fantastic start this season. She currently leads the team in scoring, dropping 17.6 points a night. She is not alone, however. Four more of her teammates — Andi Daugherty, Jodi Johnson, Kelsey Peare and Julie Worley — chip in more than 10 points a night, leading to a team average of 95.7 points a night, second best in Division II.
What may be more impressive is how unselfish they are, leading DII with 331 assists, 59 more than the next closest team.
“Coach Fralick instills a mindset in us to pass up a good shot for a great shot,” Snyder said. “That, along with having great players who can knock down those shots, has gotten us to where we are today. Our offense, and any offense for that matter, thrives off of ball movement which also creates a lot of assists. Being able to work and play with other great players like this has raised my game to an even higher level because I know I have to play at my best caliber day in and day out.”
That level of play has seen Snyder improve on what she already did extremely well — rebounding. She finished last season in the top five in rebounding in GLIAC with 9.2 per game. This season, she currently leads the GLIAC (and is 28th in the nation) in rebounding, ripping down 10.3 per outing.
“Coach [Kari] Pickens tells us often, ‘You can never be a selfish rebounder,’” Snyder said. “My goal for rebounding this year was to strengthen my mindset. One of the key factors to rebounding is to simply have the mindset to relentlessly pursue every rebound. It is easy to take a rebound off here and there every once in awhile, but it takes a tough player to focus each and every time that ball comes off the rim to make it yours. I focused on putting my efforts into being the latter.”
The coaches that Snyder often credits are amongst the best in the game. Fralick — the reigning GLIAC Coach of the Year — was a standout player at Davidson before coming to Ashland as an assistant, then an associate and now head coach. She was part of the staff that led the Eagles to their 2013 national championship. That season she coached Kari Pickens, easily the most decorated player in Ashland history, and now her top assistant coach, one who was named one of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s "Thirty Under 30" last year.
Combined with a team consisting of four returning starters, the Eagles sit at 13-0. They were No. 1 in the WBCA Poll for the second week in a row this past week. AU is now faced with quite the daunting task and one of its biggest tests of the young season. Coming out of their nearly two-week holiday break, the Eagles face No. 4 Bellarmine this weekend and then a Michigan Tech team — one that sits atop the GLIAC North Division — next week.
The No. 1 versus No. 4 matchup is sure to be the premier game of this first weekend back to DII basketball.
“We are just excited to compete again,” Snyder said. “To be able to have a huge test like Bellarmine and Michigan Tech at this time of year is something we are trying to take full advantage of. We have complete confidence in each other not only because we are undefeated, but because we trust one another, love one another, and know that everyone is fighting for the same goal.”