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COC guard Ashley Wakefield: Cougar catalyst

Wakefield is the driving force behind COC’s surprise start this season

Posted: January 18, 2010 9:51 p.m.
Updated: January 19, 2010 4:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons sophomore guard Ashley Wakefield is averaging 18.8 points per game, which is good enough to lead the Western State Conference.

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When the season started, College of the Canyons women’s basketball head coach Greg Herrick didn’t build anyone up with lofty expectations.

He didn’t think he had reason to.

“We aren’t going to be very good,” he told fellow coaches in a preseason meeting.

They were skeptical. His program had just won its 11th conference title of his tenure.

“I don’t sandbag,” Herrick defended.

He lost four starters that combined for nearly 44 points per game on offense last season.

He wasn’t trying to be pessimistic, just pragmatic.

Nobody told Ashley Wakefield.

The sophomore guard is leading her conference in scoring at 18.8 points per game.

She’s the biggest reason why COC (13-4, 3-0) has pulled off nine straight wins and earned a No. 1 ranking in the Southern Division of the Western State Conference.

And she’s the main reason Herrick’s never been happier to be wrong — sort of.

“I’ve been taking a lot of crap for that,” Herrick says, of his harsh preseason assessment. “But there’s a part of the game that you can’t measure. There’s no indicator of this until they get out onto the floor,” he adds, tapping his chest.

However, Wakefield’s contribution is a little easier to gauge. On top of prolific scoring, she’s also added 12.9 rebounds per game, 3.1 steals and nearly three assists.

Herrick says her play is contagious and the team has rallied around her. He struggled for a minute to picture the game her lithe, 5-foot-10-inch frame portrays.

“She’s like a condor,” he says, describing the way she flies to rebounds. Seconds later, he says she’s a racehorse the way she gets after the ball. “Because all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Whoa, Where did she come from?’” he says.

The he found the right words. “She’s just a stat machine.”

And she’s come into her own under Herrick’s system. She had solid numbers at Washington Prep High School in Los Angeles, averaging a double-double her senior year.

But the half-court sets her team ran rarely gave Wakefield’s true ability and athleticism a chance to show.

“(My freshman year at COC) was a really good experience, because I had never really played in that style before,” Wakefield says. “It was something new to me, and it was something better. It was easier, just going down the floor and getting easy buckets.”

Her increasing comfort with the Cougars’ fast-friendly offense has led to an offensive explosion in her sophomore season. She scored 30 points against Taft College in an 82-74 win on Jan. 8.

Her all-around efforts were highlighted by a triple-double against Bakersfield College on Jan. 14, when she scored 15 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and dished out 10 assists.

“She’s our captain,” says Cougars guard Samantha Cross. “She’s the glue on our team. She gets all points, all the rebounds, all the assists.”

Wakefield had a great season last year, garnering conference MVP votes while earning first-team All-WSC honors.

But there was a lot of changeover and struggle to start this season. For the first couple of weeks, Herrick’s preseason predictions looked as though they might not be far off the mark.

COC opened with two losses before the Cougars got their first win on Nov. 18 against an undermanned Long Beach City College 92-60.

While Wakefield, Cross and center Joslyn Frazier all upped their scoring averages from the previous season, there wasn’t a clear leader.

Wakefield says there was a lot of negativity coming into the locker room — internally and externally — at the beginning of the season.

The Signal’s team preview caused some angst, when it repeated Herrick’s earlier sentiments on the team’s prospects. Cross says the team brought it into the locker room and read it, one by one.

“Everyone came together as a team and said if no one’s going to believe in us, then we’re going to believe in each other,” Cross says. “And we used it as a motivation.”

But it still wasn’t easy for the young team. A few were unhappy with their roles and grumbling about it.

The new group lacked confidence, had trouble adjusting to Herrick’s uptempo system and basically, lived up to its coach’s prognostications. The team picked up a couple more wins and losses with its up-and-down play.

“Yeah, partially because we felt like we were put down, but we felt like it was a drive,” Frazier says. “We said, ‘People think we’re not going to be good? OK, we need to get better.’ We were basically talking about how we needed to come together as a team. ... We became more positive, we knew we were all working to a common goal.”

COC was 3-4 and at a crossroads before it played perennial power Mt. SAC on Dec. 12 for a second time this season.

It had already lost a first meeting to Mt. SAC 82-77 in a tournament at Ventura College on Nov. 28. Frazier says the team had a meeting to address issues.

“I don’t think the problem was with (Herrick’s) system, but within ourselves,” says Frazier, who’s also averaging a double-double with 14.9 points and 12.4 rebounds. “We had to believe in ourselves and in our system. We kind of started believing, ‘We are a running team.’”

Again, Wakefield led the charge. She had 18 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, five steals and a block in the Cougars’ 73-68 win over the Mounties.

It was a turning point for the Cougars’ confidence. But the sophomore never covets the credit for her impressive numbers.

“We always push the ball and do what we have to do as a team,” Wakefield says. “It’s just pushing the ball and working harder than (other teams) do.”

The team has won every game since. Wakefield’s ability to give opponents trouble with her defensive ability and offensive arsenal has been a rallying point.

Teams have had to scheme around her Herrick says. It’s been more than a month, and no one has seemed to figure it out yet.

“I was shocked when we played Bakersfield, and they came out (in a) man-to-man (defense) against us,” Herrick says of Wakefield’s triple-double.

Herrick ran three isolation plays in a row for Wakefield. After three consecutive Wakefield buckets, the Renegades abruptly switched to a zone to slow her down. She began to look for teammates and finished with 10 assists in the win.

“What do you think it is? Good coaching,” Herrick says with a laugh. “No, seriously, if you have to scheme for her, or plan for her, then you’re halfway home on that,” Herrick says. “She’s just electric.”

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