'Her volleyball IQ is through the roof': Why Ava Ashworth has Ballard volleyball eyeing state tournament

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune

HUXLEY, Ia. — Ava Ashworth normally displays a pretty calm and reserved personality on the volleyball court. 

She has been a rock for Ballard at outside hitter as she begins her fourth season of varsity competition. Ashworth's steady presence as an all-around player is a big reason why the Bombers have steadily improved since her freshman year, going from 5-23 her freshman year to 11-20 in 2019 and then 12-14 a year ago.

But she also knows when to turn up the dial.  

"She gets a kill and she freaks out," Ballard setter Riley Askelsen said. "Then everyone else gets pushed and we build off that. It's good having that energy."

Ashworth has had a great passion for volleyball since she started playing in fifth grade. She began her club ball career for Iowa Power Volleyball Alliance out of Ankeny three years ago. It was there Ashworth discovered she could be a pretty good player.

Though she isn't the tallest player on the court at 5-foot-6, Ashworth makes up for the lack of height with her intuition.

"Her volleyball IQ is through the roof," IPVA coach Joe Morton said. "She's really good with her attack selection."

Senior outside hitter Ava Ashworth wants to turn in an outstanding senior season to help the Ballard volleyball team make a run at a winning season in 2021.

It also helps that Ashworth is explosive off the floor and gets good momentum into her swings. Her emotions come pouring out when she really connects on a spike.

"Her getting riled up on a big play really has a huge influence," Morton said. "It gets the rest of the girls on cloud nine with her. They feed off that."

Ashworth's energy and smarts resulted in her piling up 459 kills over 83 matches entering her senior year. She also recorded 397 digs and 85 aces over her first three seasons.

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During that time, Ashworth shared the load at outside hitter with Carley Wilson. Wilson totaled 511 kills over that time span and she also went all the way around.

But Wilson graduated last year.

"She's always had Carley there to share the load," Bennett said. "With her gone, it puts way more weight on Ava's shoulders."

Not only is Wilson gone, but the Bombers lost seven other starters off last year's team. 

Ashworth is one of only three returning players with more than one season of varsity experience, along with defensive specialists Kerrigan Boock and Hailey Battani. Sophomore middle blocker Brooklyn Baumgardner is the only other returning player with more than 10 kills.

That means Ashworth not only has to be counted on to produce more, but take on a big leadership role.

"It's been a little bit of a challenge," Ashworth said. "Before we played Pella, we had to go over how to run out and wave to the crowd. That was kind of funny. But I think the younger girls have adjusted really well."

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Ballard ended up getting swept by Pella, the No. 9 team in Class 4A, to open the season. They came back to sweep Iowa Falls-Alden two days later then dropped their first Raccoon River Conference match Tuesday at ADM in four sets.

Ava Ashworth knows  how to keep her Ballard teammates energized after making a big play on the volleyball court.

"We need to work more on set selections and working with our middles to open up the offense," Ashworth said. "Teams have tried to shut me down. I'm definitely going to keep working on my shot selection and taking what I learned from club and put that out on the court." 

Ashworth said ADM did a great job defending her, but she still had 11 kills against five attack errors in the match. She's getting more and more comfortable taking on double blocks and other defensive adjustments opposing teams are throwing at her.

"I have no doubt Ava will succeed despite being the only returning outside hitter," Wilson said. "She has developed into a great team leader. In practices and matches, you always knew Ava was working hard when she dove for a ball and got up to go to the next play or rotation and the floor was just drenched with sweat."

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That effort is helping the younger Bomber players ease into their varsity roles. When the chips are down, they know can always rely on their captain to make a big kill or dig.

"When we're flustered, we know that Ava is there," Askelsen said. "She can put it down. It's really relieving to have that." 

Even with so many untested varsity players, the Bombers are aiming high in 2021.

"One of our goals this year is to be conference champs, but Bondurant-Farrar is looking pretty good," Ashworth said. "We are a 3A team now, so we're looking at maybe getting to state this year. First time in school history. That will be a big goal of ours." 

Ashworth wants to do everything she can to make those dreams a reality. She wants to go out with a bang her senior year and leave the program in the best shape possible.

"We've progressed every year that she's been here," Bennett said. "The younger kids really look up to her."