The Wolfpacker

November 2015 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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NOVEMBER 2015 ■ 93 WOLFPACK BASKETBALL PREVIEW 2015-16 BY BRIAN RAPP W hen the 2015‑16 NC State wom‑ en's basketball season tips off Nov. 13, the team's only four‑ year scholarship player will, most likely, be watching from the sidelines. But Ashley Eli — one of two remain‑ ing players on the roster from former head coach Kellie Harper's last recruiting class, in 2012 — won't be mulling over what might have been. Instead, she'll be doing what she's done for most of her nine‑year hoops career: making the best of what she has and contributing to her team's success in what‑ ever capacity she is able. "I think that, over the years, I've played a pretty big role on little things — making sure my teammates are on time, knowing what they have to wear, taking them places, things like that," Eli said. "I just try to be a good teammate because when you think about it, players come and go every four years. I just hope I can leave an impact on someone while I'm here so they'll be able to do the same thing." Three years ago, the highly recruited na‑ tive of Mansfield, Texas, which is in the Dallas‑Fort Worth region, came to NC State hoping her contributions would be more from on‑court performance than behind‑ the‑scenes support. Fickle fate intervened to send Eli's career on a wild roller‑coaster ride, a journey that has seen her go through a complete coaching staff change, a position change that cut her playing time in half her sophomore year and a serious injury last February that left her playing status for this season in doubt. Overcoming Obstacles On Feb. 8, Eli was playing in her 23rd consecutive game, an eventual 71‑55 victory over Wake Forest at Reynolds Coliseum. During a routine free throw situation with 28 seconds left in the first half, she jumped for a rebound on a missed shot. "The ball hit the rim a second time, and I think I wanted to stay [on the ground] a sec‑ ond longer, but my body had already started up," she recalled. "At the time, I thought the girl next to me [Deacons guard Amber Campbell] had kicked me crazy hard in the back of the leg. When I went down I hoped I'd just rolled my ankle, but when I tried to get up I just fell over … and I couldn't feel my foot." A quick test by Pack trainer Casi Dai‑ ley confirmed that Eli had torn the Achilles tendon in her left foot. She was the second NC State player last season — and fourth in two years — to suffer a season‑ or career‑ ending injury. To that point, Eli had been enjoying her best season since playing in all 31 games her freshman year, playing 16.6 minutes per contest, shooting 86.7 percent (13 of 15) from the foul line and averaging 2.3 re‑ bounds per game, just below her season‑best output of 2.7 as a freshman. "I was probably the most confident since I'd been here," she recalled. "I felt like I finally had a role." Admittedly, there had been times the pre‑ vious year when Eli wasn't sure what that role was — or whether she was capable of filling it. The oldest daughter of Eric and Kim Eli (her father played at Southern University, her mom in high school before concen‑ trating on a career as a radiologist), Eli came late to the game — though she was involved in athletics from the time she was 4 years old. "I started playing soccer at 4, but they ran too much," she said. "Then softball was my sport until seventh grade. They didn't have a softball team at my school, and I wanted to play a school team sport. "I'd been playing basketball in rec leagues, but never competitively until then. When I found out I could play basketball for my school team that was it. A lot of my friends were playing — plus basketball was a sport that was getting in the paper, getting a lot of attention, and I wanted to play some‑ thing that got some recognition." Eli played four years for Summit High School, winning state championships as a freshman (beating future Baylor All‑Amer‑ ican and WNBA star Brittany Griner's team in the title game), and again as a senior to become the only player to win two state titles in that four‑year period. "I was the only freshman on the team that first year, so by the time I was a se‑ nior nobody from that team was left," she explained. Recruited by Texas Tech, SMU and TCU in the Lone Star State, Eli decided she didn't want to stay close to home ("TCU was like just 20 minutes from my house," she said). Her final choices came down to Central Florida and NC State. "Then the main assistant coach who'd been recruiting me at UCF left," Eli said. "That was a factor — but I basically had always dreamed of playing in the ACC. But it was more the school and the fact I wanted to do something that involved math or sci‑ ence, and NC State had a huge reputation [in those areas]. "I had a lot of perks coming here, and I think that's important in recruiting, because you never know what may happen with a coach — they could leave for a better job or get fired, or whatever. You have to go to a school for the whole package." As one of two freshmen on the 2012‑13 Pack roster (the other is current senior walk‑ on Kaley Moser), Eli was one of the team's most used subs, playing in all 31 games and averaging 15 minutes per contest. As a 5‑11 wing, she tallied 38 assists and 15 steals to go with 83 rebounds and 75 points. But with Wes Moore's arrival as NC State's fourth head coach in 2013, Eli found herself thrust into a new — and somewhat uncom‑ fortable — role: a perimeter forward. "I've always been one to go with a small and quick lineup rather than a big and not so quick," Moore said. "So rather than her being a big guard that isn't blessed with the greatest speed and who might have trouble defending a quicker guard, I'd rather her be an undersized four [power forward] player that can out‑quick bigger people that are guarding her." A Different Way TO LEAD Pack Senior Ashley Eli Won't Let An Injury Keep Her From Contributing To The Team This Season

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