Nobody told Ashley Storey that she had to step up this year for the University of New Hampshire women’s basketball team.

At least not directly.

Coach Maureen Magarity simply laid out the facts to her returning players – seven players graduated from the team that lost to Maine in the America East semifinals last year, replaced by seven freshmen – and let them figure it out.

“There were hidden messages for all the returning players,” said Storey, the former Greely High standout and now a redshirt junior for the Wildcats. “We needed to show the freshmen how to play together. And we needed to score. Someone needed to step up and lead the team.”

Turns out it was Storey. With the start of the America East season days away – a Jan. 2 game in Bangor against Maine – the 6-foot-3 Storey has become New Hampshire’s go-to player. She leads the Wildcats (3-8) in scoring (17.5 points per game), steals (24), blocked shots (14) and defensive rebounds (59). She’s second in rebounding (6.5 per game) and fourth in assists (17).

Not bad for someone who didn’t even play last year. Storey had labrum surgery on both shoulders and missed the entire season.

“She’s always had it in her,” said Magarity. “In high school, she looked to score and dominate games and take over. When she got here, her role was different, as it should be. But she got better every day going against (teammates Carlie Pogue and Kat Fogarty). It helped her game going against them. Unfortunately she went out with an injury. She worked hard at rehab.

“This year she looks different, is just more confident on the court. You always hope that players come back (from an injury) better and stronger. But she’s taken it to another level.”

With her size and length, Storey is a tough matchup for a lot of teams. She’s scored her career high of 23 points in each of the last two games, against Holy Cross and Central Connecticut.

She has the ability to play with her back to the basket or on the wing, where she can handle the ball or hit the 3-pointer. She rebounds relentlessly. She’s also a superb passer.

“And she runs the floor,” said Magarity. “I think it’s remarkable that at 6-3 she runs the floor better than anyone out there.”

“She doesn’t do anything wrong,” said Brian Clement, who with Don Briggs coached her on the Maine Firecrackers AAU team. “Kids love to play with her because she’s a good all-around player.”

Storey, whose major is human development studies, didn’t set out to be the team’s leading scorer. “When it first started, it just happened,” she said. “I don’t know how but it kept happening. I’ll do whatever I need to do to help the team.”

Which is what she’s always done, according to Briggs. “She’s just an unassuming kid, a quiet leader,” he said. “But she’s always in the right spot and does what she’s supposed to do.”

Sometimes she needs a push, though. In the game against Holy Cross, Storey was being left unguarded on the wing early in the game and refused to shoot, once resulting in a shot- clock violation. Magarity called her over. “I told her if they’re not guarding her to shoot the ball, that I didn’t care if she took 10 3s,” said Magarity. So Storey went out and hit three consecutive 3-pointers.

“Now we have to find a little more balance scoring-wise,” said Magarity. “We’ve struggled with that as a team. But at least we know we can count on Ashley.”

Storey, who was the Maine Sunday Telegram player of the year in 2015 after leading Greely to the Class B state title, approached this season knowing she had to be better. As a freshman she made the America East all-rookie team and followed that up with another strong season as a sophomore.

But the shoulder surgeries put her out for eight months last year, giving her a medical redshirt season. During rehab, she worked on strengthening her shoulders and improving her shooting, which was always pretty good – she led the Wildcats in field-goal percentage each of her first two seasons (49 percent as a freshman, 58 percent as a sophomore).

And people are noticing. Magarity’s father, Dave Magarity, is the head coach of the women’s basketball team at West Point. He’s watched several of the Wildcats’ games and Maureen Magarity said he told her Storey “is the best post player he’s seen all year. She’s just so consistent and that speaks volumes. She’s always been a finesse player but now she’s so multi-dimensional … she’s our best player.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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