By Russell Moore
FOR THE TIMES
Like any athlete seeking to get better, Wallace State women’s basketball sophomore forward Ashley Nance had a checklist of attributes she wanted to improve on during the offseason.
Among the items were to become a tougher defender, a stronger scoring option in the post and a significant team leader.
“Working on my defense was probably the highest priority. I realized early last season that rebounding and boxing out, things that came easy in high school, weren’t so easy anymore. You can’t play soft on this level,” said Nance, a Danville High graduate. “I still look to improve my defense every game. If you focus on defense, the offensive success will take care of itself.”
Nance is fulfilling all of those offseason goals and then some. The 5-foot-8 Nance, a First Team All-State selection during her senior year of high school, leads the entire Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) in scoring, pouring in 16 points per game and is averaging 9.9 rebounds, good for third in the league. She has already tallied nine double-doubles this season for Wallace State (13-5), which began conference play last week and appears to be a strong contender for its second state championship in three seasons.
Nance, a First Team NJCAA All-Region 22 player as a freshman, has been the Lions’ catalyst all season.
“Ashley was raw as a freshman and didn’t really understand how good she could be at this level. Even though she had a very successful freshman year, making All-Region and All-Tournament, she was intimidated at times and let that affect her too much,” Wallace State coach Ron Burdette said. “I couldn’t ask anything more of her so far this season. We’re a young team, so Ashley is trying to get the younger ones to calm down, mature and play aggressive. She leads by example in the weight room, in the classroom, on the court and how she conducts herself.”
Nance was part of Burdette’s first signing class after an impressive career at Danville, where she played on the varsity as early as the eighth grade and earned All-State honors twice, finishing with more than 1,900 points and 1,200 rebounds as a four-year starter. Nance and her Danville teams were Class 3A postseason regulars, advancing to the Northwest Regional at Wallace State three times and to the 3A state championship game during her senior season.
“Playing here (at Wallace State) feels like home because we were fortunate enough to make it to the regional in high school. It gave me a chance to meet the coaches here,” Nance said.
Nance was one of Wallace State’s reliable scoring options last season, averaging 12.2 points, mainly all in the paint, as the Lady Lions finished 22-9 and as state runner-up.
Despite a lack of size for an ideal post player, Nance succeeds near the goal with grit and an aggressive motor. She’s now using that competitiveness to become a more versatile offensive player this season, knocking down jumpers from the free-throw line or baseline—another challenge, posed by Burdette, that Nance has accepted.
“Ashley has been working hard catching the ball at the free-throw line and shooting. She’s never been asked to do that before. Last season, she would get the ball, take two or three dribbles down low and get knocked around. She is learning the game more and more and enhancing her ability as an overall player,” Burdette said. “She’s still faster than most of her opponents in the post and is usually the first one down the floor on both ends. The future gets brighter and brighter for her.”
Upon adding to her shooting arsenal, Nance has also improved her shooting percentages from last season. She is shooting 45 percent (98 of 218) from the field and hitting free throws at a 71-percent (76 of 107) clip, upgrading from a 35-percent mark from the field and 66 percent from the charity stripe last season.
As Nance continues to improve her overall game, so do the Lady Lions, who have put together a season-high four-game winning streak and seek to improve on the solid roll they enjoyed last January and February, when they lost only three games after mid-December.
“We’ve had a lot of setbacks this season, but we have a lot of girls ready to step up,” Nance said. “I don’t feel we have one person on the team who does it all. We have three or four people who can step up and take control of the game.”
Meanwhile, Burdette maintains his otherwise young squad feeds off Nance’s leadership.
“Ashley has been playing phenomenal the last month, and the other girls seem to follow in line. She has had to inherit a leadership role, and it’s a tough task to lead 11 freshmen. Ashley’s still learning that you have to be a leader even when you’re having a bad day, but she has been nothing but positive for our program,” Burdette said. “I’m fielding three or four phone calls a day from coaches who have seen her play or want to come see her play or practice. She’ll have a lot of four-year options when she leaves here. We hope we’re playing our best basketball in mid-March and people are still watching her.”