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Another 'D'-lightful season for Fremd's McConnell
By John Leusch | Daily Herald Staff

Fremd's Ashley McConnell, here battling Rolling Meadows' Jackie Kemph during the Mid-Suburban League championship game, played an all-around game in helping the Vikings to a third straight MSL West title.


JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/8/2012 11:44 PM

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The Fremd girls basketball team has won 68 games the past three years.

It has also won three Mid-Suburban West championships and an MSL crown during that period.

In all three seasons, Ashley McConnell has been in the backcourt helping direct the Vikings'offense.

She has sliced her way through defenders with cat-like moves to convert layups.

McConnell has calmly worked her way free near the 3-point arc to hit the long-range shots.

And the 5-foot-9 junior has made nifty passes to set up her teammates for easy baskets.

When you add it up, McConnell has done it all offensively.

But guess what?

"My favorite (part of the game) is defense, I've always liked it," McConnell said. "I just think it comes the most natural to me. I was always put on the tough girls when I was little and I always took pride in trying to stop them."

Fremd coach Dave Yates will be the first to tell you McConnell's defense matches her offense.

So combine the two and you can see why McConnell has been a key element to Fremd's successful run over the past three years.

It just adds up to McConnell being named as captain of the Daily Herald's all-area girls basketball team.

And McConnell enjoys adding numbers as well.

The National Honor Society student lists math as her favorite subject and wouldn't rule out one day becoming a math teacher.

Perhaps she will study the subject at one of the Horizon League or Missouri Valley Conference schools that are already recruiting the speedy guard who has never had a grade lower than a B while taking advanced placement classes at Fremd.

Yates and his assistant Dave Townsend, coincidentally, are math teachers. But neither has had McConnell in class.

"Her interest in math must come from her math teacher this year (former Fremd softball coach Rob Harris)," Yates said with a smile. "Ashley will be successful at whatever she chooses. Her drive to succeed extends beyond the basketball floor."

Off the floor, McConnell (3.89 GPA) is also involved in Service Over Self and was a midfielder for Fremd's soccer team that placed fourth in the Class 3A state tournament in 2011.

And of course, she's had plenty of team success in basketball.

"Not many kids can say that they played on a conference championship team each year they have played varsity basketball, let alone three in a row," Yates said. "Ashley has been very fortunate to play with some very good basketball players and even better teammates. But she has also had a huge impact on each of those teams. Whatever the team's need was each season, Ashley stepped up and did what was asked of her."

When McConnell came in as a freshman after starring for Sundling Middle School, her foot speed and defensive footwork jumped out at Yates.

"She gave us an unexpected boost on defense and also gave us a third ballhandler along with Taylor Glassmann and Bridget Kubis," Yates said. "When Gianna Abruzzo and Taylor Glassmann graduated, we encouraged her and others to pick up the scoring load."

McConnell obliged her sophomore year and immediately began to put up double digits each game.

"Her ability to get to the basket off the dribble was probably what stood out most her sophomore year," Yates said."

This season, with the graduation of five seniors from the Vikings' top seven, Yates had many conversations telling McConnell she had to become more of a scorer than she was as a sophomore.

Once again, McConnell obliged.

"She really worked hard on her 3-point shot and also showed great improvement on her ability to shoot off the dribble," Yates said. "We have meetings every spring about what the girls need to improve on. What is amazing about Ashley is that within months, the things we identified as areas of improvement, were quickly becoming strengths of hers."

McConnell averaged nearly 16 points a game while taking an average of 11 shots.

"What that shows you is that she understands what a good shot is and makes the most of her opportunities," Yates said.

Then, of course, there's the defense part of her game.

"She always gives us fits out there with her defense," said Hoffman Estates coach Mike Nocella, who has faced McConnell all three years. "She was tough to go against. She has long arms and long legs and she is a smart player. I'd love to have her playing for me."

Her defensive prowess does not surprise Yates.

"Ashley has the physical gifts of foot speed and defensive footwork combined with a very competitive spirit and a knack for making big plays," he said. "It took a lot of coaxing to get her to look for her shot this season."

But when she took it, she was usually right on the mark. Probably just like those days when she first started the sport by playing Horse with her father Steve at a neighbor's home.

Steve (basketball, football) and his wife Lonnie (track and field) were athletes at Crown Point High School in Indiana.

Ashley, who plays for Midwest Elite, began AAU basketball in sixth grade and has worked with her basketball trainer (Jeff Pagliocca at the Buffalo Grove Fitness Center) for a long time.

"He taught me how to shoot and I still go to him today," said McConnell, who was born on Sept. 21 and wears No. 21. "It's crazy. I didn't know what to expect when I came in as a freshman. But each year I've worked so hard and it's paid off. There have been so many older girls I have looked up to.

"What I've enjoyed the most is the friendships and bonding with my teammates. I've met some amazing girls. Beating Hersey for the MSL title my sophomore year was exciting. That was such a big team win. And the game this year against Rolling Meadows for the championship (last-second win in OT by Meadows) was one of the most fun ones I've played."