Last year, a young girl and her dad attended a Lady Blue Devils basketball game.
Sitting directly behind the pair, I heard snippets of the conversation …
“Watch No. 20, sweetie. Watch how she plays,” the father told his daughter.
Almost on cue, Davis High’s No. 20 snatched a defensive rebound, took a short dribble and launched a two-handed snap pass 40 feet to a driving Tori Powell for another two points.
The girl (I’m guessing 10 or 11 years old) just looked at her dad. It was kind of a wow-she’s-good, wide-eyed response. I don’t think she said anything. Just let the slick rebound and pin-point pass sink in.
Another fan for No. 20. Another lead-by-example moment.
That wasn’t a prolific scoring night for No. 20 — Ashleigh Vandenbrink by name — but the 57-37 DHS win over Elk Grove showcased the many ways in which the now-senior has become the heart and soul of local girls basketball.
That night, Vandenbrink went 2-for-8 from the field. Not good. But aside from her seven points, the play-anywhere standout recorded four steals, a handful of assists, seven rebounds and two blocks.
Her contributions during a late 11-0 run brought Davis back from an early deficit.
She was the difference in the game …
“Ashleigh is a leader for this team,” her Blue Devil coach Karen Foster understated this week. “That ‘C’ (for captain) appearing next to her name bestows honor and responsibility. She distinguishes herself from her teammates by always setting the example on and off the court.
“Her work ethic and demeanor is always positive and it is easy for her teammates to want to follow her. This allows our team to be the best it can be.”
Just watch her on the court. Ashleigh Vandenbrink is all business.
The smiles are few and far between when the game is on the line. There’s work to be done. And as long as she’s been around now, opponents are too familiar with that Vandenbrink hunch and squint — a sign that something meaningful is coming.
With the Devils coming off of a 60-50 win at Monterey Trail on Tuesday, DHS is now 21-4, standing alone atop the Delta Valley Conference at 8-1. Vandenbrink scored 26 points, hit her last seven shots of the game and pulled down 12 rebounds — all while nursing a badly sprained ankle.
There was no reason to talk to the young lady about how her injury felt during the win. She just plays through things like that and, frankly, that’s a negative that she feels deserves little or no attention.
The daughter of Kurt and Barbara, Ashleigh leads the Blue Devils in scoring (15 ppg), rebounds (10.5 a game), steals and 3-point shooting (she’s made 36 treys). She’s second only to freshman guard Anna Belenis in assists.
With playoffs ahead, Ashleigh took some time to reflect on what her prep basketball years have meant — and why this team is rolling.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to finish my varsity career with,” the three-year starter told me. “What makes this team different is hard to explain …
“I believe it’s our attitudes and dedication. We all respect each other and know that we can only be successful if everyone is involved … and that doesn’t revolve around just the starters, or even one or two players.
“On any given night, any one of us can step up, and that’s what I believe makes us so successful.”
From freshman starters Belenis and Rachael Allison to her longtime pal, frontline cohort and co-captain Powell, players are quick to point to Vandenbrink as the hub of this winter’s success.
Foster agrees: “I have personally been around Ashleigh for more than five years and have watched her grow and mature into a fine, young student-athlete. She is a true testament to our success.”
Vandenbrink, who also is a strong softball player but has funneled her energy exclusively into basketball, isn’t sure which college will be in her future. Occidental, Lewis & Clark (Portland), UC Santa Cruz and Redlands are possibilities.
“I’m not making any decision until I hear back from every school I applied to,” the 5-foot-10 wing says. “Once I hear back, I’m going to … talk to (each coach) about hopefully walking on.”
Walking on? What? Have these people not seen her play? For this talented girl to not have been recruited — especially at Division II and III schools — well, somebody is slow on the uptake.
Regardless of where she’s headed, Vandenbrink will continue to work out this summer with Foster and JV coach Kalyca Seabrook.
“(I want to) be in the best shape possible to help make a positive contribution to whatever basketball program I end up in come the fall,” Vandenbrink says.
Citing strength in math and science classes, Vandenbrink wants to follow in her dad’s career footsteps. She thinks a major in bioengineering is the right path. Kurt is a quality-assurance manager at Genentech. Mom works in economic development and brother Andrew is a junior at Oregon State (a mechanical engineering major).
It’s been my pleasure to watch Ashleigh play these past four seasons (you could tell in her JV season that someone special was in the program). I can count on one hand the number of high school athletes who have impressed me as such a complete package as has the personable, accomplished Ashleigh Vandenbrink.
Whichever college lands her, congratulations — and it’s about time one of those schools comes to its senses.
While I Have You Here: It’s Senior Night for Davis High boys basketball with a special pre-game ceremony honoring the Blue Devils’ nine senior players.
Daniel Bonetti, Grant Dickerson, Hayden Duer, James Kilkenny, Adam King, Hayden Russell, Mikie Schlosser, Tommy Slabaugh and Kevin Sorensen will join family members in a special tribute at 6:45 p.m.
Come 7 p.m., it’s game on as the locals hope to nail down a playoff berth with a win over visiting Monterey Trail.
More than 1,266 fans attended Friday’s Break the Record Night. Coach Dan Gonzalez hopes a majority of those folks now have the Blue Devil Habit.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.