On Tuesday, I informed Ashlyn Herlihy via text message she had been selected as The Tribune’s County Player of the Year for girls basketball for the 2015-16 season.
“That is awesome, I am stoked!” Herlihy wrote back. “Do you need me in my uniform (for the photo?)”
“Yes, you know the drill,” I responded.
The Arroyo Grande senior has been winning awards and taking photos for the front page of sports sections for a while now, and for good reason. There has never been a female athlete in San Luis Obispo County quite like Herlihy.
Sure, there have been back-to-back winners of The Tribune County Player of the Year award. Most recently, Kelly Blair (Morro Bay) was named county basketball player of the year in 2005 and 2006 and Olivia Trudeau (Arroyo Grande) was the best volleyball player in the county in 2007 and 2008.
But checking The Tribune’s archives going back to 1982, no female athlete has won back-to-back County Player of the Year awards in two different sports. By being named the Jay Cowitz Tribune County Player of the Year for girls basketball in the 2015-16 and ‘14-15 seasons, and being named Co-Tribune Player of the Year in volleyball the past two years, Herlihy made history.
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Herlihy was by far the best girls basketball player in San Luis Obispo County this season and led the Eagles to a share of the PAC 8 title with Righetti.
The 6-foot-1 senior finished her final high school season in style. She averaged 22 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game. She scored more than 20 points in 11 of 28 games, and her 618 total points were a single-season school record.
Season Highs and Lows
After losing the league opener to Righetti, causing some to wonder if Arroyo Grande would take a big step back following a 14-0 league season last year, the Eagles won six in a row. Then Arroyo Grande hosted Righetti on Jan. 27 for a game that still gets Herlihy fired up when she thinks about it.
With 15 seconds left in the game and Arroyo Grande trailing by four points, Herlihy was called for an offensive foul on a made basket. The controversial call propelled Righetti to the 54-46 win and all but assured a split title.
“It didn’t end in our favor,” Herlihy said. “But I didn’t wake up the next day and ask myself if I could have played harder.”
That’s because Herlihy had a triple-double in the game; 24 points, 12 blocks and 10 rebounds.
Herlihy said she hates losing so much, she could probably write down every loss she has suffered in basketball during the past four years, but said she’s leaving school knowing she helped raise the level of the program. The school’s PAC 8 record nearly improved each season (3-9, 6-6, 14-0, 12-2) since her arrival, and the last loss of her high school career, a 55-43 defeat to Mark Keppel in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA playoffs, was a personal milestone after finally making it past the second round with 46-40 win over Buena.
“(Buena) was seeded fourth or fifth and we were seeded 12, so it was kind of an upset,” Herlihy said. “They weren’t expecting us to come in and give them a run for their money in their gym. That was probably one of the best wins that I’ve had here.”
Herlihy’s point and block totals were the highest of her career, but her rebound numbers were slightly down, a result of an extended effort to prepare the longtime post player for a life on the perimeter when she graduates from Arroyo Grande and joins the Santa Clara University basketball team this summer.
“I’m excited but I know it’s going to be totally different,” Herlihy said. “You grow up here, you win all county and all league, you get all theses accolades and you go there and there are 12 of you. And they’re bigger and they’re better and they’re faster.”
Preparing for her leap to the NCAA, which begins with her move to campus July 27, Herlihy wakes up every day at 5:45 a.m. to run drills alone in the Arroyo Grande gym. It’s that work ethic that helped Herlihy become one of the best female athletes ever to compete at Arroyo Grande.
“Sometimes when I’m gassed or after I run suicides in practice I ask myself ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this to myself?’ ” Herlihy said. “But it is something you can’t explain. It’s a deep desire, a competitiveness that I can’t let go.”