Jackson senior Ashley Bartels has been a regular on the girls varsity basketball team for four years.
And while she has made her share of big plays during her career, it hadn't been until this season that she became the focal point of the team.
After the Indians lost star Jenna Leet and fellow seniors Whitney Werner and Jessie Koeper following last year's final four run, the team needed someone to step up production-wise. Bartels has answered the call this season, averaging double figures while helping lead Jackson to a 21-3 record heading into its season finale.
"I've always had seniors to look up to as role models," Bartels said. "I figured this was my senior year, it was my time to step up."
Tonight's game will be senior night for Jackson's seven seniors. Besides Bartels, other seniors include starters Katie Loos, Jennifer Ferrell and Linden Hahs, as well as reserves Abigail Weinrich, Jamie Ball and Maria Oehl.
"I can't say enough about all our seniors," Jackson coach Sam Sides said.
For Bartels, who does not plan on playing collegiate athletics beyond intramurals, tonight's game will be somewhat bitter-sweet.
"I know I'm going to miss it," Bartels said.
Bartels is known as an intelligent player, something which comes not only from her play but from her prowess in the classroom as well. Bartels is currently ranked No. 1 in her class and plans on attending medical school.
"There's no doubt intelligence has been a big part of her game," Sides said. "She makes really good decisions."
Bartels' basketball intelligence and athletic ability have allowed her to make a smooth transition from guard to forward this season. Now, instead of spotting up for 3-pointers, the 5-foot-10 Bartels is using her quickness to get easy buckets down low.
"It took a little while to adjust because I'm just not as big," she said.
Another benefit from Bartels' move from guard to post player is her ability to get to the foul line. She's an 81 percent free-throw shooter.
"Most of the time when you have a strong post player, you're going to get fouled, and that's a big part of our offense," Sides said.
Even with Bartels' increased production, Jackson has enjoyed a balanced scoring attack. Loos and Ferrell have both had their share of strong offensive games along with sophomore Bobbie Jones and Hahs.
"I haven't seen many teams try to focus just on Bartels, but that's a tribute to our balance," Sides said.
While tonight's game will mark the last regular-season game for Bartels, there still could be plenty of games left in her high school career. With two trips to the final four under her belt, both ending in third-place finishes, a championship would be the perfect way to finish.
Bartels said after coming so close twice in her career, she thinks this team can achieve its ultimate goal of a championship.
"I believe we're going to do it," she said.
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