Aaliyah Ashley-Meek has enjoyed the highs and struggled through the lows during her career at West Valley, and heading into the final week of her final season in black and orange, the senior wants to make sure it ends on another high.
“I’m the only player on this team to have played in the state tournament,” she said. “We don’t talk much about it, to be honest. But I want my teammates to experience that.”
A talented, two-sport athlete, Ashley-Meek’s basketball career started on a high note, as she helped the Eagles to a third-place trophy in the 2010 State Class 2A tournament. But despite having most of that squad back, the Eagles did not make the 2011 tournament.
Most of the group played both volleyball and basketball, and Ashley-Meek became a designated playmaker in both sports: a three-time first-team All Great Northern League setter in volleyball; second-team All GNL point guard a year ago.
“I grew up playing with Shaniqua (Nilles) and Hannah (Love) all the time,” Ashley-Meek said. “In volleyball I was a defensive specialist as a freshman, and then as a sophomore I was moved to setter and given the keys. They made my job easy. In basketball it was a bit more of a challenge, but really, it was about getting them the ball.”
“They were great basketball players and once they were gone, everything changed. Last year, after they had all graduated, we had trouble figuring out who we were. We couldn’t do the things we could do when they were here.”
Basketball coach Lorin Carlon kept his reminders gentle, but firm, she said.
“He kept telling us that he’d been there when we’d only won two games all season and that he’d been there when we finished third in the state,” she said. “We weren’t the best team he’d ever had and we were far from the worst.
“It finally started to click for us by the end of the season.”
Still, no one predicted great success for the 2012-’13 Eagles, and the fact that West Valley heads into the final two games of the regular season deadlocked with Pullman for first-place in the GNL standings is a measure of vindication.
But it’s not enough.
“The way it stands now, if we finish tied with Pullman we would have home-court advantage so long as we keep winning at district,” Ashley-Meek explained. “We won the tie-breaker with Pullman, so if we have a rematch with them in the district championship game, it would be on our home court, the same court we practice on every day, and in front of our fans.”
Pullman is the team that sticks in the back of everyone’s mind, Ashley-Meek said.
“We have our spirit game with East Valley and they’re our traditional rival,” she said. “They’re our neighbors and it’s a natural rivalry. But really, our rival in league is Pullman. We always end up going head-to-head with Pullman. It’s a great rivalry that way and those games are fun to play in.
“We’ll be in the gym getting ready to play our next game and (assistant) coach (Jamie) Nilles will say ‘That effort is not going to get it done against Pullman.’ You have to get ready to play each game, but you can still be conscious of what it takes to beat a team like Pullman and still prepare for them, too.”
There’s a new element coming into each of these final games, Ashley-Meek said. The team is like a family, but with each game there’s a sense that the ending is just one page closer.
“We’re all very close,” she said. “We love each other and we have so much fun together. But at the same time, I don’t think any of us are going to go on and play basketball at the next level. That makes these games that much more important because we may not be playing any more beyond this.”
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