Franklin girls look to slow Noblesville star

NOBLESVILLE

Ashlynn Shade recently used the long reach of social media to commit to play college basketball for 11-time national champion Connecticut.

Unlike much of what the Noblesville junior does, there was no strategy behind it.

“Me and my family, we sat down and we said that we were going to make a decision after our season was over,” Shade said. “But going on the visit, I just knew it was the place for me, and that it was the right time.”

And times are good in Noblesville, which is returning to the girls state finals for the first time in more than three decades.

A 5-foot-9 guard, Shade will be the undisputed focus of what Franklin attempts to accomplish defensively in Saturday night’s Class 4A title contest at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Shade is rated as the nation’s No. 5 prospect in the Class of 2023. Her basketball skill set is already drawing comparisons to past Indiana Miss Basketball recipients Stephanie White (1995) and Skylar Diggins (2009).

Noblesville’s roster is entirely void of seniors, meaning Shade is the unquestioned go-to for the Millers, averaging 20.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Capable of playing any of the five positions on the court, Shade’s do-everything mentality spills over to assists (4.2) and steals (3.6) as well.

“Her motor, that’s the thing that’s always stood out to me,” said Noblesville coach Donna Buckley, now in her 14th season. “She plays every possession on offense and defense like it’s the last one. She never takes possessions off. The closest I’ve ever seen to her in high school is Stephanie White.

“Just that kid who can do everything. A special talent.”

Noblesville’s other starters are junior guards Kaitlyn Shoemaker (9.3 ppg) and Brooklyn Ely (3.2), 5-8 sophomore Reagan Wilson (9.9) and 5-9 freshman Meredith Tippner (9.7).

As freshmen, Shade, Shoemaker and Ely started on a squad that took its lumps through a 10-13 season. The trio used that experience to lead last year’s turnaround that included a 21-5 mark and the program’s first sectional championship in six years.

Buckley’s current group, utilizing a pesky 1-3-1 zone defense, averages 13.8 steals per game.

“I think everything starts with our 1-3-1 being able to turn people over and get out in transition,” Buckley said. “Obviously, Ashlynn is unbelievable, but we have other kids to go with her. And that’s huge. It’s all those kids being able to score and do things on the other end, too.

“I mean, (Shade) can score. But at the end of the day, she doesn’t have to score a bunch. The best thing about Ashlynn’s game is that she’s become so much more efficient. She scored 23 points on Saturday (at semistate) and took 10 shots. Whatever it takes to win.”

This isn’t Noblesville’s first time in the hoops spotlight.

The Millers qualified for four consecutive final fours (1987-90) during the single-class era, winning the 1987 title with a 47-38 defeat of Anderson Highland behind the play of sophomore forward Courtney Cox and senior guard Krissi Davis in the championship game.

Leah Wooldridge, Noblesville’s current athletic director and the Millers’ coach for five seasons (1999-2004), was one of the Scots’ starting guards that night at Market Square Arena.

Noblesville returned to the final the following season, but lost by a basket to Fort Wayne Snider and hasn’t been back.

Until now.

Shade only knows about those earlier Noblesville squads by way of team photographs, record books and what she hears from longtime fans in the community. She takes tremendous pride in being able to help lead a new generation of Noblesville girls basketball to downtown Indianapolis.

“I think it’s amazing that we’re able to base our history off of them, and I think they were an absolutely amazing team,” Shade said. “The team we have this year, I think we’re able to replicate that almost. I, personally, wasn’t able to watch them, but I’m sure that what we have going on right now is the same thing they had.

“It’s going to be amazing. I just love the community support that we’ve had in this postseason, just from sectional all the way to now.”

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Mike Beas is the Daily Journal's veteran sports reporter. He has been to more than 200 Indiana high schools, including 1990s visits to Zionsville to profile current Boston Celtics GM Brad Stevens, Gary Roosevelt to play eventual Purdue All-American Glenn Robinson in HORSE (didn’t end well) and Seeger to visit the old gym in which Stephanie White, later the coach of the Indiana Fever, honed her skills in pickup games involving her dad and his friends. He can be reached at [email protected]