ASHLAND, Ohio (AP) — On a small-town campus amid a patchwork of northeastern Ohio farm fields, Ashland University has quietly built a women’s college basketball juggernaut.
The 140-year-old Christian college is home to the best team you’ve probably never heard of.
Last Saturday’s 113-75 victory over Northwood in front of 242 fans in Livonia, Michigan, was the 19th of the season and the 56th straight.
Ashland broke the NCAA Division II record with its 52nd consecutive win back on Jan. 6, surpassing the string put together by Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, in 2005-06.
Coach Robyn Fralick and her players are perfectly polite but somewhat indifferent about the reporters and TV crews visiting campus since they broke the record. They know this team has been good for a long time.
“The streak is just a byproduct of other things being good, people working hard and putting the team first,” said Fralick, who played Division I basketball at Davidson. “Our biggest focus is to play the game the right way for 40 minutes. The reality is, that’s hard to do.”
The Eagles lost two games in Fralick’s first season, then ran the table last year, blowing through six games of the NCAA tournament and finishing 37-0. They easily beat Virginia Union by 16 points in the final .
Connecticut holds the record for the longest women’s basketball winning streak with a mind-blowing 111 games from 2014-17 that included two Division I national championships.
Ashland, halfway between Columbus and Cleveland, is not quite on that level — a preseason exhibition game against the Huskies ended in a 119-56 loss. But the Eagles again are blowing through their Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schedule, averaging 101 points per game and thumping opponents by 40 points.
Ashland won its first national championship in 2013 when Fralick was an assistant to Sue Ramsey, the 20-year coach and Ohio Basketball Hall of Famer who developed the Eagles into a perennial power. Ramsey retired but left an indelible imprint on the program.
“Her big philosophy was focusing on the individual and letting the program come from that,” said Andi Daugherty , a senior forward whose older sister Kari was a star player at Ashland and now is an assistant coach.
Founded by the Brethren Church, the school counts 6,600 students, with around 2,500 on campus. There is enthusiastic support in the community, with home games drawing around 1,000 spectators to Kates Gymnasium, about twice the national average for Division II games.
Ten of the 11 players on the roster are from Ohio.
Some of them just didn’t get much attention from Division I programs in high school. Others are talented enough to play at a higher level but wanted a better balance between sports and academics, liked the emphasis on Christian faith or just wanted to stay close to home.
Sophomore guard Jodi Johnson was a prep superstar who led Wadsworth, 40 miles south of Cleveland, to a big-school state championship her senior year. She attracted Division I interest but was noncommittal until late about whether she even wanted to play college basketball. Ashland waited her out.
“It’s close to home, it’s a great atmosphere, we have coaches who truly care about us as people, on and off the court,” said Johnson, who is averaging 19.2 points per game.
Laina Snyder , a 6-foot-1 senior center, came to Ashland because she wanted her summers off. She knew athletics at a Division I school is a year-round endeavor.
“It was just a good balance of life and basketball,” said Snyder, who is averaging 19.7 points per game. The conference player of the year last season, she already holds the school record for rebounds and likely will end her career as the all-time leading scorer.
“We play for each other, we play for God,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for.”