At 23, Comox Valley basketball product Aleah Ashlee calls herself the “grandma of the team” at the University of Victoria, where she is in her sixth season under a third head coach.
Varsity student-athletes who participate in U Sports normally have five years of eligibility. Since last season was cancelled, those in their fifth year are allowed to return for a sixth.
“I stuck around just because the pandemic cancelled my senior season and I couldn’t bring myself to end my playing career like that,” said Ashlee, a 5’11” guard who played basketball at Isfeld Secondary in Courtenay.
While she doesn’t remember much about high school basketball, she recalls coach Hugh Mackinnon convincing his players to do some out-of-the-ordinary things. During a Christmas tournament, for instance, he convinced the squad to wear reindeer horns and seasonal costumes for the warm-up.
“The other team was laughing at us and we looked ridiculous, but we had so much fun,” said Ashlee, who earned several all-star and provincial team selections in her teen years.
She also faced a few challenges on the injury front. In high school, Ashlee underwent surgery after dislocating her kneecap several times. She struggled with pain afterwards. Her surgeon suggested taking up another sport such as swimming or cycling, but she was able to continue basketball thanks to the physiotherapists who helped relieve the pain. At UVic, trainers and physios have helped her make it through the seasons.
Ashlee said the Vikes have experienced ups and downs throughout her seasons with the team, never advancing past the Canada West quarter-finals.
“This year I’m hoping to finally make it further,” said Ashlee, who fondly recalls beating UBC twice in her second year. “UBC and UVic have a long history of rivalries, and it was just so sweet beating our rivals, especially twice in a row.”
Peter Parke, a member of the Comox Valley Athletic Association who coached against Ashlee for several high school seasons, remembers her as a hardworking, tenacious and skilful player, and an excellent teammate and leader.
Carrie Watts has only been head coach of the UVic women’s team since the end of June, but she said Ashlee has already made a tremendous impression.
“We were very lucky to have her return for a sixth year, which speaks highly of her love of the game, and her teammates,” Watts said. “She shows great leadership on the team with her work ethic and attention to detail, and brings outstanding grit and determination to everything she does. She is positive and a great role model for all of her teammates.”
The Canada West basketball season starts Oct. 29 for UVic, which faces Trinity Western in Langley. The next day, Ashlee’s squad plays UBC in Vancouver.