All-Empire Large School Volleyball Player of the Year: Casa Grande’s Ashley Harris

By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat Casa Grande senior Ashley Harris, The Press Democrat's All-Empire Large School Volleyball Player of the Year.

ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat
Casa Grande senior Ashley Harris, The Press Democrat’s All-Empire Large School Volleyball Player of the Year.

At 6-foot-7, Casa Grande’s Ashley Harris is the first player you’d notice if you walked into a gym where the Gauchos were playing last fall.

“We’ve never had a girl with her physical attributes come out of Sonoma County,” Cardinal Newman coach Anna Waller said of the senior, who will be playing volleyball on scholarship at the University of Arizona next fall.

But Harris, whose parents both played basketball collegiately at the University of San Francisco and the University of Hawaii, is more than the tallest girl on the floor. She’s played volleyball year-round since deciding as a seventh-grader to focus exclusively on the sport.

Outside of the high school season, Harris plays with top club team Empire Volleyball and has devoted herself to weight training and workouts to keep herself in top shape.

“You don’t get girls who come through with that height and that ability that often,” said Montgomery coach Koy Stewart. “She’s just a beast to have to deal with on the other side of the net.”

Coaches nationally agreed. Harris, co-MVP of the North Bay League, was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s All-American first team, putting her among the top 100 high school-level players. The honor also qualified her for a December elite tournament and skills competition in Lexington, Ky.

Though Harris has been one of the Empire’s top outside hitters for a while now, her high school coach, Jillian Forni, set out to help her become a more complete player her senior year by not subbing her out when rotations would place her in the back row.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Harris said of playing all the way around. “It’s something I want to get better at. No one wants to come out of a game. If I can play six rotations, that’s what I’m going to do.”

As a result of the switch, Harris got more time to spend digging out spikes from the opposing team and setting up her teammates on the front line. She also notched quite a few kills from the middle spot in the back row, Forni said.

The trajectory that Harris’ height allowed her to put on kills from the back row gave the Gauchos an uncommon weapon in high school play.

“(At the high school level), I can take them by surprise more often,” Harris said. “It’s pretty satisfying.”

At Arizona, Harris expects to move from being an outside hitter, her position in high school, to opposite hitter. In the classroom, she plans to work toward a business marketing degree.

Petaluma coach Christen Hamilton, who faced Harris and Casa in league play until last fall, when Casa moved to the NBL, said Harris’ ability to dominate a game goes beyond her height.

“She’s had to work very hard to do the types of things that she can do,” Hamilton said. “She’s always helping out the younger kids, being really nice to them and a good mentor. That’s what a true MVP does; they lead by example.”

Forni agreed, crediting Harris’ leadership and excellence with helping to elevate Casa’s program as a whole.

“The girls on the team just all love playing with her,” Forni said of her team’s co-captain. “She helped set the precedent of being committed to the sport and getting more involved with it and playing year-round.”

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