February 10

For UMaine basketball star, journey of 1,000 points was on a bumpy road

Ashleigh Roberts has seen coaching issues and lots of losses, but she’s stuck it out in Orono.

By Mark Emmert memmert@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

It was a feel-good moment in a college basketball career that hasn’t produced many.

click image to enlarge

Ashleigh Roberts endured three straight dismal seasons for Maine, but her perseverance paid off. This year the team is 13-11 and she’s matured as a senior leader.

Michael C. York/Special to the Press Herald

And everything about it seemed abnormal somehow.

On the verge of scoring her 1,000th career point for Maine, Ashleigh Roberts drifted to the left corner. She is not accustomed to inhabiting corners, whether she was leading the outcry over the firing of Coach Cindy Blodgett or shouldering her way into the lane for a layup.

Maine was already well ahead of an overmatched Maryland-Baltimore County team. Victories, let alone blowouts, have been hard to come by in Roberts’ four years in Orono. Her teams have achieved just 28 of them.

When Sigi Koizar swung the ball Roberts’ direction, she didn’t hesitate to launch a 3-pointer, a facet of her offense that has been largely untapped. When the long-range shot hit the bottom of the net, it was one of only 34 in her career

That smooth shot belied the bumpy road Roberts has traveled. She became the 17th Black Bear to reach the 1,000-point plateau, but it’s doubtful that any other has endured so much upheaval along the way.

“I did not know going into the game how close it was,” Roberts said of the milestone, laughing at the memory. “But Ali (Nalivaika), told me, ‘All right Ash, all right Ash, you only need 12 points.’ I was like, ‘get out of my face.’ Her and I were joking around. ‘I’m going to get to nine points, and even if I get a wide-open layup, I’m going to dribble back to the 3-point line. Even if it takes me five games, I’m going to do it on a 3-pointer.’”

Roberts has more reason to laugh this season. She finally has some continuity around her after three seasons spent adjusting to new coaches and teammates. She is no longer butting heads with Coach Richard Barron after two tense winters.

Most important, her team is winning, with a 13-11 record after Sunday’s 65-53 win over Binghamton at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“I’m ecstatic with where we are. We could go out with a winning record. We have a real chance to make some noise in the conference,” Roberts said. “I’m obviously leaving the program a lot better than it was when I came.”

‘A FEROCIOUS COMPETITOR’

Roberts didn’t begin playing basketball in her hometown of Wilmington, Del., until the seventh grade. She preferred karate, then gymnastics early on.

But once she did pick up a basketball, there was a single-minded devotion.

“I liked to score. It just always gave me a thrill,” Roberts said.

Two years later, she was good enough to make the varsity team at Concord High School, where she starred for four years. She left with 1,646 points, the most in school history for either gender and eighth-highest total for any Delaware girl.

John Armstrong was her coach. He said Roberts remains one of the top five players he’s had in his 24 seasons.

“We had some games where we were down 15, 16 points at halftime. Ashleigh came out in the second half and scored 30 points and we would win,” Armstrong said. “She was just a ferocious competitor with a strong will to succeed.

“On her off days, she’d run a couple miles down to the Y to play against the boys, against the men. She just wasn’t going to be denied.”

Roberts had an ulterior motive for the extra time in the gym. At 5-foot-9, she was needed in the post on her high school team. But she knew that if she wanted to play in college, she would have to learn a guard’s skills. At the YMCA, she worked on ball-handling, driving to the basket and drawing fouls, making free throws.

(Continued on page 2)

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