Ashley Albright's Mainland athletic career marked by leadership, successBy DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When the weather is nice, a high school girl might wear a new sleeveless shirt or dress with pride, but not many would even think about such a fashion choice if there were bruises up and down her arms. Mainland Regional’s Ashley Albright didn’t care this spring, however. She wears her bruises like a badge of honor.
Lacrosse players are a little different than your average high school girl.
Albright’s lacrosse and field hockey careers with the Mustangs were anything but average, as she graduated as one of the more highly decorated female athletes in recent school history. Her resume already is a page long, and she hasn’t even started college at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., yet. She collected eight varsity letters, was a two-year captain in both sports, and team MVP and first-team Cape-Atlantic League and Press of Atlantic City in lacrosse as a senior. She leaves as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 218 goals, was co-captain last summer for a team representing the United States during a tournament in Scotland and was second-team All-CAL for the Press in field hockey the past two years. Oh, and she’s also Miss Linwood.
“It’s been a pretty successful career. I’ve definitely seen myself transition throughout the years and get better. A lot of hard work went into it, and there have been a lot of people who have helped motivate me,” Albright said. “I just looked at each year and picked one thing I wanted to get better at, and I would work really hard to get better at that. Senior year, I just wanted to improve my overall game because college is coming up, and you need to improve before you get there.”
Albright always had talent, but lacrosse coach Bernadette Daley said it took a little while for her killer instinct to shine through. But once it did, Albright was unstoppable, scoring nearly 100 goals her senior year and helping the Mustangs to their first home playoff win in program history.
“When she was a freshman, that’s where I was concerned. I knew she had the ability but I didn’t know what kind of competitor lied within. It really came out this year. She would be going into goal and getting double- and triple-teamed. Three years ago she would have said, ‘they are all over me, I don’t know what to do.’ But not anymore,” Daley said. “Her junior and senior years, she really blossomed and became a competitor. She was proud of the bruises she would have by the end of a game. She’s fierce. You can just see what’s going on in her mind in photographs. She’s got it, and I have no worries about her playing at Grand Valley State next year. I’m thrilled for her, and I’m really proud of how she matured on and off the field. She’s really come a long way.
“When she was a freshman, I talked to Ashley and her dad, and told them that she worried me. I wasn’t sure if she would be able to compete at the next level if she didn’t do some things, and sure enough, she did all the things I asked,” Daley added. “I really smiled the entire time I watched her this year because I knew she was going to do well at the next level. I saw her getting double-teamed and triple-teamed and she was able to handle that with composure. To have that level of maturity — and it’s a tough league where she is moving on to — I have no worries about her at all. She’s going to do great.”
“She’s been a huge asset to our success. Her sophomore year we tied for the CAL title and she had a tremendous year. She’s been a constant positive presence throughout her four years. Her senior year, she blew us away. She was one of those girls who got better every year. She was a captain, very positive, she would lead by example, she got along with everybody. I think she’s one of those players that everybody looks at and says, ‘wow, I wish I could be just like her,’” said Mainland field hockey coach Jill Hatz. “She is the total package, and a lot of that is the people you surround yourself with. She was always around adults as a young kid so she got some maturity from that. From the first day, she was completely comfortable talking to me. I was thinking, ‘what is this little freshman doing? Why is she not scared of me?’ A lot of that (maturity) comes from her parents, Bill and Blair.”
Blair and Bill have two younger children — Keegan, age 5, and Dawson, 3. Not many high school athletes have siblings more than 10 years younger, but being in that situation has had an impact on Ashley. She has a hand in raising two young children, along with her parents, and the maturity needed to handle that helped her blossom into the type of team leader she became.
“It just naturally happened. I matured a little bit quicker than everybody else. When they came along, it was like I was another parent to them. I needed to look after them when my parents weren’t around and tell them all the things they should and shouldn’t do. They always came to all my games, they had my number on the little T-shirts my mom would make, they were always cheering me on,” Albright said. “They watch every single second, even when you think they aren’t, so anything bad that you do they think it’s OK. So I definitely have to watch what I do and say around them.”
“She is almost like a parent because of the level of maturity she has to have with her younger siblings. So she knows how to talk to them and handle them, and, likewise, as a leader of the team she knew there were younger players on the team and she knew how to talk to them and get a point across. She would always handle it like a mature young lady and talk to them the way she wanted to be talked to,” Daley said.
Added Hatz, “She’s really lucky with that. It’s not the typical situation. Normally, if you have siblings they are only a couple years ahead of or behind you, but to have those little ones I think it does create a whole new sense of maturity and a different outlook on life. She’s like a parent watching them grow up and to have that perspective is huge.”
Keegan and Dawson also provide some perspective during pressure-packed games, and seasons. Even if the Mustangs lost a tough game, they would come running up to Albright after the game and provide big hugs. It’s tough to stay upset about a loss when two young children want you to hug them.
“It makes it a whole lot better. It makes me a little bit happier when I see them running over to me and giving me a big hug,” Albright said. “It’s crazy thinking I’m going away to school for five months and will be coming home (at Christmas) and seeing how they have changed so much. It makes me upset thinking about it because I see them every day now. Sometimes Dawson will come over to me and say, ‘Ashley, I’m going to be really sad when you go to college. I’m going to cry.’ I think they kind of know what’s coming, but they don’t necessarily understand how long I will be gone.”
Next in line
Mainland has built solid lacrosse and field hockey programs on the strength of quality student-athletes. Players such as Anna Gordon, Taylor Klever, Riley Dolan and Kailey Stangle have paved the way in recent years for teammates such as Albright to be the next in line to shine. Albright’s also had the luxury of having two of the top coaches in the league in their respective sports guiding her way.
“They’ve had a lot of influence. They were always there to motivate me when I thought I couldn’t do something. They were always pushing me,” Albright said of Daley and Hatz. “I’d go to them with questions and they would tell me what I needed to work on. They were always there for me, even if I didn’t necessarily want the information they were going to tell me. They were going to tell me anyway, but I’m thankful they did.”
“Our senior class this year, there were seven of them, so we had a lot of combined experience among our seniors,” Hatz said. “The first day, I told them they could either be typical or they can be exceptional. They took the high road. They knew when to have fun, when to get down to business. They had a great balance, and Ashley was a huge part of that as one of our captains.”
Daley echoed those sentiments.
“She’s going to be a huge loss. She set quite a few records and has definitely impacted our program. Even though her moving forward is a loss, it’s a huge boost for the program because it really helps the younger kids aspire to be something. They want to be like Ashley and emulate her, just like Ashley had people she wanted to be like, the Anna Gordons of the world, the Taylor Klevers, the Riley Dolans, they all had somebody they looked up to and wanted to be like,” Daley said. “Ashley’s left her mark, and more than just in the record books. She’s done a lot for the lacrosse community at Mainland. There really is nothing bad you can say about her. She’s very humble, genuine and down-to-earth. They are just down-to-earth, nice people, Ashley, her parents, her extended family.
“She works really hard in the classroom and all her teachers really like her and admire her. She is genuinely a nice kid. Her parents were never any sort of trouble, they were always very supportive of her and our lacrosse program.”
Bringing out the best
When asked what Ashley will remember most about her high school career, her top three answers were wins — all against Ocean City. During her freshman year, the lacrosse team beat the Red Raiders at home. As a sophomore, the field hockey team knocked off Ocean City, then, this past spring, the lacrosse team scored a huge win on the road against its bitter rival.
The rivalry against Ocean City brought out the best in Albright, as it does a lot of athletes in many different sports.
“It’s crazy. It makes you emotional, whether you get happy or sad. Every year we want to beat each other, and it comes down to blood, sweat and tears. It’s always a good rivalry. During that day, you really can’t focus on what’s going on during school. Teachers even know it, too, that playing Ocean City is a big day,” Albright said. “I don’t think anybody thought we were going to beat them (in lacrosse this year), but we proved everybody wrong. It’s a crazy feeling. You’re so nervous that something could happen to change the game and you just want everything to go right. When it does, it’s such an emotional feeling. I think the whole team cried after that game.”
Dealing with change
The reality that her high school career is now just memories is slowly beginning to settle in for Albright, she said. While she said she’s excited for college, she knows how much she will miss Mainland.
“It’s a great sense of family at Mainland. Being able to go through so much with all those girls really made us closer, and that’s something we’ll be able to share as we get older,” she said. “It went by way too quickly. I wish I could go back and slow it all down. (My last game) was tough. I’m not going to lie, I cried. But they were tears of joy because I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish. We had some amazing years. I played four amazing years in two different seasons. It’s been hard, but I’m glad. I’m happy to be able to start the next chapter in my life.”
“One of the things we try to do every year is take the girls on bus rides to see the former players who are playing in college. I don’t know that we’ll make it out to Michigan. We go to see Anna at La Salle, Taylor Klever at Neumann. It keeps all these names fresh for the younger kids, and it’s a motivator for them. To have all these kids looking at them and aspiring to be like them puts a smile on my face,” Daley said. “Young kids ask me if they can have a Mainland lacrosse T-shirt, and these are kids who might be an Ashley Albright someday so you want to instill that want and eagerness in them. We want them to be a part of this tradition that these kids have built. We’re starting to turn out kids like Ashley, Anna and Taylor, and we’re getting more and more every year.”
Coach Hatz has a special relationship with Ashley. She has two young daughters who she and husband Brian, also a teacher and coach at Mainland, bring to play dates with Keegan and Dawson. It’s not often a coach cries when a senior graduates, but Hatz said she couldn’t help it. That’s how much Ashley has meant to her, both as a player and a person.
“At her graduation party, I was crying when I was writing out the card. I’m going to miss her a ton,” Hatz said. “I feel like one of my own is going off to college, but Brian and I told Bill and Blair that we’re not going anywhere, they are stuck with us. I could talk for hours about Ashley. We’re going to miss her on and off the field.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays