There was a time in her college basketball career when Ashley Emmons wondered if she was ever going to be a part of a winning team. Coming into this season, the Dickinson State senior had endured four losing seasons, which was nearly enough to br...
There was a time in her college basketball career when Ashley Emmons wondered if she was ever going to be a part of a winning team.
Coming into this season, the Dickinson State senior had endured four losing seasons, which was nearly enough to break the Colstrip, Mont., native and push her away from the sport.
"Why else do you want to play? You want to win," Emmons said. "It wasn't happening and it wasn't happening."
It finally happened this season.
While it took a lot of time and several losses -- 84 in four seasons to be exact -- Emmons has finally reached the proudest moment in her career. Not only can she call herself a winner, she's a champion.
Emmons made that clear by attacking the net with a pair of scissors after the Blue Hawks defeated Black Hills State on March 1 to win the Dakota Athletic Conference championship.
"I've never been a part of a championship team -- ever. I never got to the championship game," said Emmons, who had half the net cut down before her teammates and coaches could take their turns.
When the crowd tried calming her down, Emmons -- standing on a ladder above most every person in Scott Gymnasium -- realized what she was doing and let out a laugh.
Before she began stepping down, her teammates spoke up.
"Juanita (Newsom) stepped back and she said, 'No! That's her net, you let her have it,' " Emmons said.
Emmons finished the job and waved the net in the air as her teammates went wild. After all, they're the ones who knew just how much the championship meant to her.
"The thing about Ashley I noticed when I met her, from the very beginning, is she's a warrior," DSU sophomore guard Kelsey Boedeker said. "She never gives up. She battled through everything and she had a tough first four years of her career. She had faith in her teammates and faith in herself."
That faith has paid off in a trip to the NAIA Division II national tournament at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Emmons will be the one the fifth-ranked Blue Hawks turn to for leadership when they tip off their first-round game against Ohio Dominican at 11 a.m. Thursday.
After all, she's the one that endured three losing seasons and a tumultuous redshirt year after which she was the only player from her recruiting class to stay with the team.
While the Blue Hawks are 24-6 this season and are considered one of the top teams in their division, it has taken a while to get to this point.
In the past four seasons, the most wins the team had in a season was eight. In that time, DSU compiled a 28-84 overall record with no postseason victories and finished last in the DAC twice.
"When I came here, it was just bickering and fighting for spots," Emmons said. "You didn't want to play with each other. It was like you wanted to play for yourself."
That attitude, she says, is the biggest reason as to why this season's team has turned around the drowning program.
"There's not one thing that's the same between this year and any other year," Emmons said. "First and foremost what stands out is our team chemistry. It's amazing."
DSU coach Guy Fridley said that chemistry starts with Emmons, one of only three seniors on the team and the only one who has been with the team her entire collegiate career.
"The thing that's not written about her or not seen is the cohesiveness," Fridley said. "She keeps the team together. This year, it's been very easy for her just because we have a great group of ladies. On the other hand, it always takes somebody to have to do that."
When Fridley took over as head coach before the 2006-07 season, one of the first things he noticed about Emmons, then a sophomore, was her leadership potential.
While Emmons has never been DSU's leading scorer -- she's averaging a career-best 10.7 points per game this season -- Fridley has the utmost faith in her defensive efforts and said she makes an impact in areas that can't be kept track of on a stat sheet.
"I don't think we can pinpoint it with a one-word answer," Fridley said.
"I could go on for a paragraph, I could go on with a novel of how important she is in terms of what she means to this team.
"We all know what Ashley can do defensively and that's where she sets the tone for us is pressuring their guards, working her tail off to get steals and just playing solid defense is what sets the tone for us. She's a momentum changer."
Emmons will end her career as one of the Blue Hawks' all-time leaders in points, assists, steals, field goals and 3-pointers.
This season, however, she's also staked a legacy as a clutch shooter, making two game-winning shots in the final seconds. She also hit back-to-back 3-pointers and came up with a pair of big steals to pull DSU back into the conference championship game when Black Hills State was starting to build a cushion late in the first half.
"She's a senior. That's what senior leaders are supposed to do," Fridley said. "... They're supposed to hit the big shots and supposed to do the big things in games."
Boedeker said Emmons' will to win is having a trickle-down effect on the younger members of the team, who have been trying to replicate Emmons' dedication since they met her.
"The one thing she has done is taught her young teammates how to keep our composure and give it your all even when you do have a losing season and things don't fall your way," Boedeker said. "... Her shoes are going to be impossible to fill."
After five dedicated and emotional seasons, Emmons is in the final week of her basketball career.
Still, she prefers not to think about it. Instead, she's more focused on winning at the national tournament while keeping in mind all the Blue Hawks have accomplished this season.
"I couldn't ask for more. I've said it a million times this season," Emmons said. "I couldn't ask for more than what's been going on. It really means the world to me. Right now, right in this time, it means everything."