'Secret superpower' Ashland University women's basketball team plays for national title
The Ashland University women’s basketball team travels to Dallas, Texas on Saturday for the Division II national championship game. The top-ranked, undefeated Eagles take on the No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (32-3).
It’s business as usual for the program, said Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto.
“This is the fifth time in the last 11 years they're in the title game. It almost reminds me of Mount Union football in Division III. Their standards are so high. They win all the time. And the difference here is in those last 11 years, they've now done it with three different coaches,” Pluto said.
Sue Ramsey, who led the team for 20 years, laid the foundation. Her teams had a 501-364 record and won the national championship in 2013.
Then, her assistant, Robyn Fralick, stepped in. She was 104–3 overall as a head coach, winning the 2017 national championship. After three seasons, she was hired by Bowling Green State University in Division I. This season, she’s 31-6 and has led the Falcons to the WNIT Fab Four, playing Columbia tonight at home.
The current coach at Ashland is Kari Pickens, who has a record of 141-15 over five seasons.
“She was an All-American player for Sue Ramsey, then became an assistant coach for Robin Fralick,” Pluto said.
With a championship this year, Pickens would become the first NCAA Division II woman to win a national title for a team on which she was a player, assistant and head coach.
The team is built around local talent. One of their best players, Annie Roshak, is a North Canton Hoover High School graduate. She’s been named the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Women's Basketball Player of the Year.
“And like a lot of these top women's programs, the academics are eye popping. I think the team GPA is something like 3.6," said Pluto. "So, this is not a 'Let's bring in a bunch of kids from all across the country and build a superpower.' This superpower is homegrown.”
Pluto said the atmosphere when the team plays home games is electrifying.
“The gym is about 1,500 seats," he said. "And this year they’re averaging 1,200 fans. And it's loud and you’re made to feel special.”
Pluto says the pressure will be on the Eagles to win the title and complete a perfect 37-0 season.
“Robin Fralick did it in 2017. Her team was 37-0 and won the title," Pluto said. "And it's pretty remarkable when you consider that, you know, this will be their third undefeated regular season in the last seven years. And Division II is competitive, it's scholarship basketball.”