BUFFALO — The sudden end to Ashlyn Sturdy’s basketball season in February and the start of summer practices had her worried.
Tri-City/Sangamon Valley had a strong regular season, finishing 24-6, but was bumped off by Williamsville in the Class 2A regional semifinals. Then summer practices weren’t well attended. Sturdy, an all-state point guard, was having some doubts as to how her senior season was going to shake out.
“(The loss to Williamsville) was not what we wanted at all. It was devastating to lose and then we lost (seniors) Grace (Honeyman) and Anna (Sagle),” Sturdy said. “This summer we just didn’t have very many people show up. We were playing games with like five people in the summer. I was thinking: How was this season going to go? Nobody was really committed.”
But as the school year began and the season approached, the Tornadoes’ roster grew and the new arrivals have provided the team with some much-needed length and depth. After a season-opening loss to PORTA, TCSV has rattled off eight straight wins and Sturdy is excited about where the team can go.
“As we got into practices, I could see that the younger girls were stepping up and actually ready to play varsity," Sturdy said. "Nobody wants to start their season with a loss, but I think it helped us. Obviously, if we want to win we have to play way better than that and so it motivated us and we haven’t lost since."
Sturdy, the 2018 H&R Macon County Player of the Year, averaged 22.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 4.0 steals last season, but this year the pressure to match those totals every night is off her shoulders with the new roster.
“We are more well-balanced in the offensive attack," TCSV coach Tony Nika said. "Ashlyn doesn’t need to score 25 for us to win now. In years past, teams would focus on Ashlyn — which I would do, too — but you can’t do that this year. The ball is going to flow through (Ashlyn) but we can set up other people as well."
Sophomores Rebecca Moxley and Jordan Closs joined the Tornadoes’ three senior captains — Sturdy, Allison Campbell and Jacey Centola — in the starting lineup, along with 6-1 freshman Sarah Finley.
“Allison’s game has really grown. She used to be just a shooter but now she can put the ball on the ground a little bit and she has been an excellent on-ball defender for us as well,” Nika said. “Jacey played a little bit of varsity last year but she has been a grinder for us this year. She does the little things: Four-to-five points per game, scrappy rebounds and steals. She does the dirty work for us.”
Sturdy has had big games this season (26 points against Downs Tri-Valley), but she has also had games where she wasn’t the team’s leading scorer, and instead led with assists (10 against Riverton).
“Going in I was worried that I was going to have a lot on my shoulders and there was a lot that was expected of me," Sturdy said. "Coach does expect a lot, but we have bigs in Sarah and Rebecca, and we have Allison who can shoot and Jayce who can shoot.
“We have basically everything we need so it’s not as much that I need to score. I can drive and kick it out because they can all shoot.”
The Tornadoes exacted some revenge against Williamsville on Monday, beating the Bullets 54-23. Sturdy had her most complete game of the season (26 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two steals) and her supporting cast was on point. Campbell added nine points, Finley had six points and 10 rebounds, and Moxley scored 10 and grabbed five rebounds.
Nika sees last year’s playoff loss as a motivational tool for this year’s team.
“It did light a fire where we had that taste of (regional championships) for two years and we want to get it back. We had won regionals the previous two years and I think we got a little too comfortable,” he said. “We are a little more motivated to get back to the regional championship and contend for tournament championships.”
TCSV won last year’s Macon County Tournament in dramatic fashion with an overtime victory over St. Teresa and Sturdy hit a game-tying 3-pointer to send the game into the extra frame. Another victory can propel the Tornadoes to even greater heights.
“It’s always a rivalry with St. T with our team having personal connections there (TCSV sophomore MaKenna Ford and St. Teresa senior Paige Ford are sisters)," Sturdy said. "Last year, beating them was crazy and so I think it will be even better this year. Everyone is going to be pumped; it is just one of those tournaments.
“I think we are going to do big things. I have high goals for us. Just seeing how much we have improved so far, I think that a regional title is something that we can compete for again.”
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Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten
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