Times Sports Editor
The Northview volleyball team heads into tonight's opening game of the sectional as the defending champion after winning its first title in 14 years during the 2009 season. While offense and kills typically get the bulk of the attention, it's often defense that wins championships.
If you looking for a key figure in that thrilling sectional title last year, it was sophomore Ashlen Buck, who played lights out from her libero position as Northview defeated Plainfield, Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South in five-game battles.
Fast forward one season and Buck is third overall in the state with 575 digs over a total of 95 games this year. The junior also has the highest total in Class 4A and the Knights haven't exactly played a cream puff schedule as they've faced a pair of highly ranked teams in Class A No. 2 Barr-Reeve and Class 4A No. 8 Avon.
Buck rose to the occasion in both of those matches, compiling seven digs in a two-game loss to Barr-Reeve and picking up 14 digs against the Orioles. In seven matches against teams with a combined 171-49 record (77-percent winning percentage), Buck has been at her best with an average of 17 digs per contest.
Northview coach Scott McDonald knew from the beginning that Buck was going to be a special player for the Knights' program.
"From the very first day of open gym her freshman year, she was a tremendous passer," McDonald said. "On defense, she had no fear and with the ability to control the volleyball, that was enough for me to see."
Having such a steady and fearless defensive player is a luxury that very few teams possess and it can be a very valuable weapon to have when facing teams with big hitters. McDonald praised Buck's leadership as well as her talent.
"She is very vocal in practice and getting everyone to see where the potential openings in defense are," Mc-Donald said. "She is definitely a leader on the court constantly communicating on defense and making certain that everyone takes care of their responsibility.
"She is definitely a luxury to have, she is absolutely amazing how much court she can cover," McDonald added. "Going into each match, we allow her to dictate what our blocks will leave open, whether it be the line or middle."
This season Buck has compiled more than 20 digs in a game, 14 times and has a 35-dig game against Corydon Central and added 34 more in a three-game match against Owen Valley. Against potential sectional opponents this season, Buck had 24 digs against Terre Haute South, 23 against North, 25 versus Plainfield and 29 against tonight's foe, Mooresville.
The junior's ability hasn't escaped notice around the state as Buck spent the better part of the winter, spring and early summer playing for the Circle City club program in Indianapolis. She was a part of the 18-year old Circle City Purple team despite being the youngest on the squad.
"She has been playing club for many years starting at COA and then moving on to Circle City. Making the 18-1's team last year as a 16-year-old is a true testament to how good she really is," McDonald said. "Playing for the 18-1's team last year really was outstanding training for her. She played against the best players in the country last year, and practiced with some of the best players in Indiana. The most beneficial thing is that she was able to see what areas she needed to work on. She has become such a tireless worker with the idea that she has to get better."
Though she has another full year of high school volleyball ahead of her next season, Buck has already drawn the attention of a number of Division I volleyball teams. McDonald felt that Buck has a lot to add to any collegiate team that she might join down the road.
"There are so many things that she has to offer a college program. First and foremost, she is an excellent student," McDonald said. "From the volleyball standpoint, she is a tremendous passer, a great defensive player that has no fear of any swing, and has a tremendous work ethic. There have been practices where we have worked extremely hard and she has asked to stay after for extra work on defense and serve-receive."
Buck and the Northview Knights look to defend their title beginning with tonight's sectional tilt against Mooresville that follows the Plainfield vs. Martinsville match at 6 p.m.