Reigning DII champs Ashland to face Ohio State and UConn women's basketball teams in one-week span
Thirty seven wins and no losses.
The Ashland women’s basketball team put together some numbers last season, running the table as they stomped to a second national title in five years.
So what to do for an encore?
Head coach Robyn Fralick is wasting little time getting her team back into the swing of things. The defending champs hit the road Sunday to take on Ohio State before heading to Storrs, Connecticut a week later for an exhibition bout with the iconic UConn womens's basketball team.
"If you want to be the best, you got to go see the best," Fralick said. "See what that looks like and learn from it.”
As cliché as it may sound, there is no denying that anyone can learn from watching Geno Auriemma and a program that was responsile for a record 111-game winning streak.
“The biggest thing for us is the experience we can get," Fralick said. "Both of these teams are the top women’s teams in the country. UConn, they’re the best. Any sport, any gender. Let’s go see what that looks like, let’s go see what that experience is like. Hopefully we can use that moving into our own season.
"I get asked a lot how we are preparing for UConn. The reality is we are preparing for Ashland. That’s our focus going into the season.”
Ashland has seen Ohio State before. The two teams played an exhibition match last season, and Ashland hung with a Buckeye team that would finish No. 11 in the country, losing 88-79. Ohio State and UConn back to back, though? Exhibition or not, that's a tough road trip for any team.
"I just hope to see our team fight and compete," senior center Laina Snyder said. "I want to see us fearlessly rise to the challenge. Coach always says to control the "controllables"; effort, being a great teammate, communication, that's what I expect our team to bring to these games."
To put anyone in the same sentence as Auriemma is a seemingly unfair comparison. That said, Fralick has built quite the resume to start her young career. She is 68-2 in those first two seasons, adding a national championship as a head coach to the one she earned as Ashland's associate head coach four years prior.
When asked to decribe her, one word comes to mind. The same word that is often used to describe the head coach that will be standing opposite her next weekend.
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"Coach Fralick is going to be a legend," Snyder said. "She knows how to bring the best out of every player, every team she coaches. The part people don't see is that she is constantly building our team. Being a team is intentional and she has led us to know what that looks like. And yes, every day a winning attitude is commanded. A common phrase in our program is championship behavior. That includes in the classroom, in our social lives, but also on the court diving for loose balls, lockdown defense, and running the floor every time. There is so much to Coach Fralick that it's hard to describe it. She's a leader, a motivator, and we know she loves all of us beyond the game of basketball."
Snyder is one of three returning starters for Ashland, who has the luxury of returning five more role players from the championship squad as well. As comforting and exciting as it may seem, Fralick knows there is a lot of work to be done.
“It’s a great reminder that every season no matter how many returners you have is different," Fralick said. "Every season has a new dynamic, a new chemistry, a new energy and a new team to figure out. That’s where we are right now.”
We're slotted 1st in the preseason poll!— Ashland Eagles (@goashlandeagles) October 26, 2017
Andi Daugherty and Laina Snyder are all-conference, and Snyder is preseason player of the year! pic.twitter.com/lX3MWE5Cgm
While the focus is on opening night 2017, neither Fralick nor Snyder forget that March 24, 2017 night that the championship became theirs. But that night was about so much more than a banner.
“Winning the national championship, it wasn’t the moment we won it that was rewarding," Fralick said. "The season itself was very rewarding. The people that we got to do it with was the best part. Getting our rings and being able to celebrate that season will be memorable because the people that were engaged in that season were very memorable.”
"It was awesome," Snyder added. "The love and support we got from everyone starting with our team, to our school, to our community was overwhelmingly great. It's a huge motivator going into this season wanting to feel those things again, but I am excited for a new year, a new story."
With so many returners and one of the division's top coaches, Ashland will be the clear favorite to repeat as national champions. While we know the Eagles' basketball skills are at an elite level, is there a little magic that makes them a team looking to start a record-setting win streak of its own?
"We don't really have superstitions but there are things I know that will happen every game," Snyder said. "Jodi [Johnson] is going to have a sweet pair of shoes. Renee [Stimpert] is going to have cornrows. Brooke [Smith] is going to say a cheesy joke in the locker room before the game. Sara [Loomis] will pull a one-liner at halftime. I will be the last one ready. Andi [Daugherty] will be the first one ready. Sarah [Hart] will have her music playing, and we will all have a lot of fun together and give God the glory at the end of the game."
There is no denying that the expectations are high in Ashland. Fralick and her Eagles wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think it's good to have expectations of youself, and it's good for a team to have expectations of themselves," Fralick said. "What we talk about a lot is that we want to climb that same mountain, but we have to take a different path. We have to figure out that path and how we are going to tackle it together."