Northwood’s Blegen named Telegram’s top playerWith the sandy soil around Northwood School in Minong, the softball field is in good shape. Ashlee Blegen has picked up her bat and glove to join the rest of the Northwood Evergreens outdoors, but her thoughts keep drifting back to the gym. She’d rather be playing basketball.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
With the sandy soil around Northwood School in Minong, the softball field is in good shape. Ashlee Blegen has picked up her bat and glove to join the rest of the Northwood Evergreens outdoors, but her thoughts keep drifting back to the gym. She’d rather be playing basketball.
“I enjoy playing softball, but basketball is always something I want to do,” the senior said. “It was never a hassle to come in the gym and play. It was always something I wanted to do.”
Blegen led the Evergreens to a Central Lakeland Conference title for the first time in school history this season and an appearance in the regional finals. She was Northwood’s lead guard and top scorer, averaging 11.2 points per game, along with four rebounds, four assists and four steals per game.
“Ashlee is our best player and one of our captains,” said Jason Schultz, head coach of the Northwood Evergreens. “She is a tireless worker who leads by example.”
This year’s Superior Telegram Girls Basketball Player of the Year, Blegen shot nearly as well from the arc as she did from the field, 32 percent and 37 percent, respectively. She also shot 65 percent from the free-throw line and was named to the Central Lakeland Conference all-conference team this season.
“She has worked very hard over the years to make herself into the player she has become and will continue to improve as she plans on playing in college next year,” Schultz said.
Blegen will join former teammate Taylor Fellbaum on the College of St. Scholastica women’s basketball team next season. She plans to major in exercise training.
“I was going to play for River Falls, but I decided that I’d rather go to St. Scholastica,” Blegen said. “It’s closer to home, and they have everything that I need there.”
Basketball is plainly in Blegen’s future now, but that was not always the case. In fact, until eighth grade, Blegen’s basketball experience was mostly confined to pick-up games in the park. She had played no competitive basketball, aside from a few tournaments in fifth and sixth grade.
Instead, Blegen wrestled.
“I wrestled with the guys,” Blegen said. “It was fun making guys cry at times, I guess.”
Yet wrestling wasn’t really what Blegen wanted to do. She grew up wrestling because of her father, Neil.
“My dad used to wrestle, so it was something he always wanted me to do,” Blegen said. “Then I realized that that’s not really what I wanted to do.”
Blegen said giving up wrestling in favor of basketball was probably the best choice she ever made. Looking back, she can’t imagine returning to wrestling.
And as Blegen made her transition into basketball, her father did as well.
At first, Neil Blegen wasn’t too happy his daughter had chosen to give up wrestling for life on the basketball court. Now, however, Ashlee Blegen thinks her father is an even bigger basketball fan than she is. When a college basketball game is on TV, father and daughter watch it together.
“Before he would never watch any basketball,” Blegen said. “Now he has accepted it and watches it with me, so it’s kind of cool.”
Blegen is thankful to both of her parents, Kelly and Neil, for the support they’ve shown over the years, but she says she owes the most to Coach Schultz.
“He knew that I wanted to be good, but it was all basically in my hands,” Blegen said. “He was always there to open up the gym for me if I wanted it.”
When Blegen was starting out, picking up basketball again wasn’t easy. By her own admission, she was “not very good.”
So Blegen hit the gym. From eighth grade through the summer before her junior year, she was in the gym every day during the summer.
Schultz pushed her to put in the time when she was a freshman. As she developed as a player, her coach reminded her she needed to keep working hard if she wanted to excel.
Now Schultz can only stand in awe of how far Blegen had come from where she started as a freshman.
“I have not coached a harder working kid,” Schultz said. “Her tireless work ethic is second to none and has helped show the rest of the girls on the team how to work hard every day.”
“She did everything on the floor for us this year,” Schultz continued. “Without her we would not have had the season we had this past year. She will be missed.”
Blegen will miss playing with her teammates, but she will not forget the Evergreens next season.
“I’m coming back for their Siren game,” Blegen said. “I really want to see them beat Siren. After the game I was pretty upset I didn’t get the chance to beat them my senior year.
“It was really disappointing this year because we had them right where we wanted them. But they made it to state, so they obviously were a good team.”
Northwood has met Siren in the regional finals for three straight years, and every year the game has been close. This year the Evergreens were leading with 30 seconds left before the Dragons took the lead and won 36-32.
“I know a lot of the younger girls were very nervous going into the game,” Blegen said. “I told them to come back, and they better beat them. I’m going to be cheering for them.”