No matter how many Wabash Valley high school volleyball matches you’ve watched in the last four years, it’s possible you overlooked one of its best players.
Which is just the way she likes it.
Ashlen Buck, Northview’s regular libero from the time she showed up at open gym three years ago as a freshman, specializes in making her job look easy.
Diving, sprawling digs? Not necessary, if you know where the ball is going.
Passes that give the Northview setter a tough way to make a play? Not very often. When she comes up with the ball, it’s usually headed to the setter in a convenient spot.
Nothing but smooth, steady play on the Knights’ back row, in other words, which enables coach Scott McDonald to breathe much, much easier.
McDonald, incidentally, won’t tell you Buck is the best player in the Wabash Valley. He thinks her best-in-the-? territory is a lot bigger than that.
“Coming into her freshman year, I’d heard she was pretty good,” McDonald said this week. “From the first day of open gym, there was no question she was a special talent — and she’s gotten better every day.
“She’s been more than I ever would have possibly imagined,” the coach continued. “I’m not intelligent enough to phrase how important she’s been to us.”
The diminutive Buck was probably never going to be a middle blocker anyway, but she has no complaints. A libero since she started playing travel ball as a fifth-grader, she said this week, “I like digging. It’s a big part of defense … I never played front row except maybe in middle school.”
She’s comfortable with the fact that fame might not necessarily come her way, Buck indicated.
“[Libero is] kind of an undercover position,” she noted. And while flashy, spectacular plays are sometimes necessary, “If you can read the ball, it’s easier to get to that spot [and make a routine play],” she added.
Reading the ball, McDonald said, is something Buck does quite well — well enough, in fact, that she literally takes charge of the Northview defensive positioning.
“The biggest thing about her is her incredible sense of where the ball’s going to be,” the coach said. “She doesn’t have to [dive]; she has incredible court sense.
“She covers from sideline to sideline and she’s always there,” McDonald continued. “We try to funnel everything to her. Our goal [on team defense] is to take away her toughest shot; we adjust our defense according to her. I just trust my instincts and try not to outsmart myself [when Buck suggests a defensive adjustment].”
Buck said this week she didn’t think she was her school’s all-time leader in digs (“Oh yeah. Not even close,” was McDonald’s response) but that’s a tricky statistic anyway. A libero with lot of digs is usually playing against an opponent hitting the ball at her a lot, instead of being blocked. And the Knights this season have some people who can block.
“I might have less digs than last year, because we have more people who can get to the ball [to block it],” Buck agreed, “and actually I like it better that way … I don’t pay attention [to statistics] anyway, I just like playing. As long as we’re winning, I’m happy.”
Thus she’s been fairly happy throughout her Northview career. Buck has been part of one sectional championship team already, and this year’s Knights are 23-3 after wrapping up another Western Indiana Conference championship on Wednesday. Before much longer, Buck will be in the 100-win club at her school.
“This has been my favorite year,” she said this week. “Our team clicks; we have very good chemistry and it shows on the court.
“We have a lot of talent too, and that always helps,” she added. “There’s not one thing about our team I would change.”
The only change McDonald might want to make is rolling back the clock to give Buck another couple of years with the Knights, he said.
“She’s tremendous, and she has no fear,” he summarized. “It’s almost like having seven people out there.”