Justin Conn, Herald & Review
BUFFALO — Ashlyn Sturdy was the Tri-City/Sangamon Valley basketball team manager in sixth grade and had already made an impression with then-JV coach Tony Nika.
“She’s was scrimmaging against our JV players and destroying them every time,” Nika said.
Then Sturdy tried to get fancy.
“We were doing this drill where we were getting out of traps, and Tony came up to trap me,” said Sturdy, who plays point guard. “I thought it would be a good idea to throw it between his legs … but it didn’t make it.
“He was hurt and I was scared. I started crying.”
Nika, though, didn’t hold a grudge. He knew he was looking at the Tornadoes’ point guard of the future. Four years later, with Nika now the head coach, Sturdy averaged 18.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 4.7 steals as a sophomore to — along with senior teammate Aubrey Hunt — lead TCSV to a regional title. That earned her the Herald & Review Macon County Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“What she brings to the table as far as scoring, distributing and defense, and only being a sophomore — it’s truly amazing,” Nika said.
Sturdy, 5-foot-7, was used to playing against bigger, stronger players. Not only had she practiced against the TCSV JV as a sixth-grader, she grew up playing against her older sister Payton Sturdy — a softball star for TCSV who also played basketball for two years. While Payton was just 5-foot-4, she was powerful — “She got after it,” Nika said. “She was a bulldog.”
“We used to play a lot — it was very physical,” Ashlyn said.
But unlike Payton, who left basketball to focus on softball, Ashlyn is a basketball player.
“Softball was Payton’s sport, but basketball is Ashlyn’s,” Nika said. “She just has the mind for it. She picks up all the little things and reads everything instantly on offense and defense. Her mind for basketball is really mature for her age.”
Sturdy started as a freshman and made the all-county honorable mention team, but improved in every facet as a sophomore.
“I played all summer and worked out a lot with my dad,” Sturdy said. “And I got a lot stronger. In my freshman year I got hit and fell down all the time. This year was much better. I was able to attack the basket more and finish.”
Sturdy averaged 10.6 points as a freshman, but Nika knew she was capable of more.
“I had pulled her aside last year and talked to her about looking to score more, but she felt like her job was setting up others,” Nika said. “This year, I got on her a few times and told her to get to the basket and look for her shot. I have to give her credit — she did.”
Sturdy said she had to change her mindset.
“I just liked giving the ball to other people and letting them score,” Sturdy said. “But if we wanted to win, we needed to score. I had to step up and get the job done. I knew I could do it. It was confidence, I guess.”
Sturdy did have help offensively this year — Hunt averaged 15.2 points. Also, Sturdy and Hunt are close friends. But Sturdy is ready to carry even more of the load as a junior.
“If I wasn’t doing well, she would step up — it took a lot of pressure off,” Sturdy said. “It’ll be a lot different without her.
“I just need to work on being more versatile and really taking it to the next level with Aubry gone.”