Lane women’s basketball: Smith blends in with former foes

11/18/2010 11:38

Expectations remain high at Lane with ex-Willamette star Ashley Smith joining forces with old prep rivals

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The Titans want another title and it shouldn’t take a GPS for them to find their way back to the championship game this season.

They have players who know how to get there.

Of the 11 members of the Lane Community College women’s basketball team, eight either won a state title in high school or played in the championship game.

“It is nice to have kids who come from winning programs,” said coach Greg Sheley, who begins his 12th season at Lane on Saturday when the Titans open the season at Seattle Community College. “(They) expect to win and have that type of mentality.”

No player fits that mold more than newcomer Ashley Smith, a sophomore transfer from Idaho State. Smith was a four-year starter at Willamette High School, where she won Class 5A state titles in 2007 and 2009 and was the 5A player of the year as a senior in 2009 when the Wolverines went 27-0.

“We’re all hoping to get a ring this year,” said Smith, a 6-foot-1 forward. “That’s always the best goal you can possibly achieve. We have the talent and we have the ability. We just need to push ourselves to do it.”

Smith is the third player to transfer from a Division I program to Lane under Sheley, who has also had five players go to Division I schools.

“The experience I had in Idaho wasn’t what I was expecting,” said Smith, who played in 28 games and averaged 1.8 points for the Bengals last season. “I came back and will play here for a year and see how that goes and hopefully get somewhere else next year.”

Sheley initially recruited Smith out of high school and is more than happy to have her back for one season.

“(Division I transfers) don’t come that often, but when you get them, whew,” Sheley said. “Ashley came from a winning program and knows what it takes. She came from a program where they work their butt off and they play hard. This is a familiar environment for her.”

A little bizarre as well. Many of Smith’s new teammates are former foes. Sophomore point guard Susan Smith and freshman forward Victoria Nnoli were both members of the Churchill team that lost to Willamette in the ’07 state title game. Sophomore forward Kristen Huff and sophomore guard MaKenzie Ficek were both senior starters for the North Eugene team that lost to Willamette for the ’09 championship.

“I know all the girls here and I really like them,” Smith said. “I’ve played with or against all of them, some of them since elementary school. So it’s kind of weird but good to be on the same side as them.”

Two other newcomers are freshmen guards Reed Levings and Jordan Brunetti, who helped Cottage Grove win the Class 4A crown last season, one year after losing in the title game. Freshman guard Nickole Bartholomew from Lake Stevens, Wash., led Archbishop Murphy to the Class 2A state title game in 2009.

“I feel as a team we’re really molding well together and getting to know each other and how we play,” Ashley Smith said.

They’ll need to, because as always at Lane, expectations are high.

The Titans were champions of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges in ’06, ’07 and ’09. They’ve played in the title game four times since 2005 and have made the final four seven straight seasons.

Since 2001, Lane has an overall record of 244-47, including a mark of 24-6 last season. And, oh yeah, the Titans have also won 79 straight home games, a streak they’ll first get a chance to extend Nov. 27 against an LCC alumni team.

“Our expectations don’t change around here. That’s just the way it is,” Sheley said. “The NWAACC’s the big prize.”