Imagine the idea of a 21-year-old, just three years removed from playing high school basketball, becoming head coach of her alma mater. Imagine the pressure of inheriting a team of gifted players so close in age, one of them her younger sister.
That was the situation Freeman’s Ashlee Taylor stepped into. Rather than be daunted by the task, Taylor has guided the Scotties to a perfect 23-0 regular season and, in her first try, their fourth trip to state in five years.
Wednesday, the Scotties play LaCenter in the Tacoma SunDome at 4 p.m. in the State 1B tournament, where they finished fifth a year ago.
“I don’t know if anybody will give her credit,” said Freeman boys coach Bill Bland, who watched her this year. “They have good players. But you can get a sense of how players feel about a coach. And the level of maturity she shows on court, how she carries herself and what she sees, is really good.”
Taylor believes she still has to convince people she was ready to be a head coach. Referees kid her that she needs to wear different colors so they don’t mistake her for a player when her attire matches Scotties uniforms.
“I’m used to it by now,” she said.
But sweeping perfectly through the regular season and last week’s regional in Moses Lake is indicative of her readiness.
The whirlwind hiring of the Freeman graduate who played on Matt Gregg’s 2005 state finalist came about after Gregg took a college job. When asked to apply, she thought, “What the heck, what’s the worst I can do. I was just excited to be considered what with my age.”
The application pool was small, said Freeman activities coordinator Brian Parisotto. But there was something he saw in Taylor when she was a player that convinced him she was right for the job.
“Her senior year in the state finals, just watching the look on her face when she had shin splints and couldn’t play, I knew she was a gamer,” Parisotto said. “She still is.”
Those injuries ended her playing career after a year at Community Colleges of Spokane, so she returned to the bench, along with high school teammate Kaila Floyd, as Gregg’s assistants. When he left, Taylor and Floyd took over the summer program.
“We didn’t have a lot of applicants because there was no teaching position,” said Parisotto. “People on the committee were comfortable with her, knew her and she knew the system.”
Taylor has borrowed from Gregg and CCS coach Bruce Johnson and added touches of her own. “I’ve always been one of those who likes to do things my way,” Taylor said.
“She was not in an enviable position, (taking over) a talented team and with her sister on the team,” Parisotto said. “She’s done a good job. Even the last two weekends she made adjustments on things they needed to help us out. And she will grow as a coach.”
Taylor said that no matter who took over she knew the team had talent.
“I knew we’d do well, I didn’t know we’d do this well,” Taylor said.
Four players have the potential to score 20 points at any time. One, junior Korina Baker, returned to Freeman this season after spending two years playing at Mt. Spokane. She is the Scotties’ starting point guard and averages 8.5 points a game.
Taylor had to deal with assimilating Baker into the lineup and with perceptions while coaching her sister, in addition to the issues of her youth. Taylor said Baker had remained in contact with friends at Freeman and meshed instantly with the girls.
“Her perception of the game is amazing,” Taylor said.
Coaching her sister, MacKenzie, the team’s leading scorer at 13.7 points per game, has been the most difficult.
“I was coaching here before her freshman year and when she came up I said we were no longer related,” she said. “I feel sorry for her. The hardest part is not being overly hard on her. Off the court we’re sisters again.”
Megan McIntyre averages more than 12 points per game and Carley Heinen 10.6. Freeman has been ranked second in state.
Taylor has accepted criticism as coming with the job and understands she can’t make everyone happy. Uncommonly mature thinking for someone so young and already a head basketball coach.