If you’ve already beaten ‘em … join ‘em?
Last winter, Ashlyn Traylor and Adelyn Walker were in Franklin’s gym, scoring some big buckets — but they were doing so in Martinsville uniforms, lifting the Artesians past the Grizzly Cubs 74-71 in a game that decided the Mid-State Conference championship.
So when Franklin coach Josh Sabol got word earlier this fall that the two sisters and their family were moving to town, the reaction was part excitement, part PTSD.
”We were down 14-0,” he said of that late January showdown that saw Traylor score 23 points and Walker chip in a critical basket down the stretch. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Bygones are now bygones, especially since Traylor and Walker have played such pivotal roles in helping the Class 4A No. 3 Grizzly Cubs out to a 10-0 start that has included a Johnson County tournament championship.
Franklin fully expected to be among the state’s top teams anyway, with four starters and plenty of young depth returning from a team that broke through with a 22-3 season and reached the 4A semistate. But the already-loaded roster got even stronger with the addition of two standout players from what had previously been the Grizzly Cubs’ chief conference rival.
Traylor said that she’d had every intention of staying in Martinsville and playing her senior season with her lifelong friends — but when the family’s house got sold and nothing else was available in town, they wound up settling on what was available, and it happened to be Franklin.
Though there could easily have been some awkwardness there, both Traylor and Walker said that the returning Grizzly Cubs have all been extremely welcoming. The fact that the sisters had previously been AAU teammates with Franklin senior Kuryn Brunson, the Daily Journal’s reigning Player of the Year, didn’t hurt the cause.
“Before we moved, we texted Kuryn and let her know, and she was like, ‘We’re going to state!’” Walker said. “She was all excited.”
There were, understandably, some concerns about how two ball-dominant players would fit into an offense where ball movement and the 3-point shooting of Scarlett Kimbrell and Lauren Klem were calling cards a year ago. But the results speak for themselves — the Grizzly Cubs are again one of the highest-scoring teams in the state.
More importantly, they’re undefeated.
“I think that kind of goes both ways,” Sabol said. “A lot of teams, they respect Lauren and Scarlett and Kuryn so much that that creates a lot of opportunities to play inside. But then there’s other games where they’re going to start doubling down on Erica (Buening) or Ashlyn, and we can play inside out and get shots that way.”
“We knew that they already had a great team,” Traylor added. “We just wanted to fit in and add more than to take away from other people.”
In addition to not upsetting the apple cart offensively, Traylor and Walker have brought a defensive dimension that Franklin didn’t have as much of last season — an intense, aggressive athleticism that can really take opposing teams out of their comfort zone.
Walker, in particular, has provided a little more of an edge.
“Coming off the bench and bringing energy to this team, I love it,” the junior guard said. “I love coming in and — Lauren, she’s aggressive on defense, but I can step up and help her out a little bit.”
Sabol believes that help will serve the team well later in the season, when games tighten up and Franklin can’t just run and gun everyone off the floor.
“The deeper you go in the tournament, you’ve got to have as much toughness as possible,” he said, “because you’re going to get to a point where teams are going to guard you a certain way and game plan for you a certain way. So when you add two really aggressive, hard-nosed players like Ashlyn and Adelyn, that’s just going to help you, especially deeper in the tournament.”
The Grizzly Cubs absolutely have plans of winning a state championship; heck, those designs were on the table before their two new additions ever showed up. But they have other goals to achieve before February, and one of those is claiming that conference title that Traylor and Walker helped the Artesians take last season, right on Franklin’s home floor.
Don’t expect sentimentality to play a part when the two sisters return to Martinsville with their new teammates on Jan. 25 — especially since the Artesians seem to have already forgotten about them (the contributions of Traylor and Walker have been conspicuously scrubbed from the team’s 2020-21 statistics on MaxPreps).
“No, I’m ready,” Walker said. “I’m so ready to go beat them on their court for conference. It should be fun.”