BOONVILLE - When Ashton Gregory was in fourth or fifth grade, she saw a poster of the Wake Forest University volleyball team.
From that moment on, she made up her mind to attend the small, private university just down the road in Winston-Salem and eventually find her way on one of those posters as a Division I volleyball player.
After years of hard work and dedication, Gregory became one of the most decorated and dominant players to come through Starmount and the Yadkin Valley.
The senior took the final step towards achieving her lifelong dreams when she signed her official letter of intent to play for the Demon Deacons at a signing ceremony last Tuesday in front of her family and coaches.
“I remember when I was younger, my friends Rachel, Sydney and Erin would go to the Wake games,” Gregory reminisced. “They would have these volleyball posters at the games and Rachel had it on her bed one day and I was like “Hmm…I think I’m going to go there. I want to be on one of those posters.” Now I get to be on the poster, it’s going to be awesome.”
While she will have to wait until next fall to actually see herself on one of those posters, Gregory became only the second Ram to receive a Division I scholarship, joining Kerry Wooten (Furman), but is the first player to go the volleyball-rich Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I got the questionnaire from Wake Forest my freshman year. I got a bunch of other questionnaires, but they didn’t mean what their questionnaire meant to me; I didn’t even really fill those out,” she explained. “I’m the second player from Starmount to go D-I and the only to go to the ACC; it’s nice to be able to say that.”
After receiving offers from a dozen major college programs - North Carolina, North Carolina State, Maryland, Georgetown, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Tennessee - Gregory narrowed her choice down to Wake Forest.
“I played Junior Olympic Volleyball through the club there and I got to see a lot more of the campus than other recruits got to see,” she said. “I liked how it was only 30 minutes from home - I didn’t want to go far, obviously. I liked the area and the campus is beautiful.
“If I went to another college, I don’t think it would have felt like home. Wake feels like home. It’s cozy and quaint and it’s little but big at the same time,” she added.
Gregory leaves Starmount as one of the most decorated players in program history. The senior finished her high school career with an astonishing 1,411 kills and 655 blocks, while capturing numerous accolades.
She was a three-time All-Mountain Valley Conference honoree, a two-time conference player of the year and the MVP of the 2010 2A State Championship match, her crowning achievement.
“Winning state - that was the coolest thing in the whole world,” she said.
Gregory now looks to follow in the footsteps of her idol, Deacon senior Andrea Beck, while also carving her own path at Wake Forest.
“I want to be the ACC Player of the Year and I want to do well,” she said. “I want to play like Andrea Beck, but I don’t want to be the same player as her. I want to do some of the things she’s done, but I also want to do my own things. I want to be my own player.
“The coaches told me they want me to be ready to go when I got there, I don’t know what that means, but I’ll be ready to go,” she added.
Starmount head coach Jon Symons, who used to cringe when Gregory would hit the ball as a freshman, said he believes his former standout will be able to reach any goal she sets.
“In the 11 years that I have been here, she’s one of best players to come through,” he said. “When you have that, you obviously enjoy it while it’s here. And then when it’s gone, it’s like ‘that was fun’ and you’re saddened by the loss of somebody like that leaving your program. But she’s on to bigger and better things. If Ashton works hard and puts her mind to it, she can accomplish every one of her goals.”
While looking back, Gregory said one adage that Symons muttered during her freshman year rang true as she got older and is something she will take to Winston-Salem with her in the fall.
“There’s a difference between girls that play volleyball or being a volleyball player,” she explained. “It didn’t really register as a freshman. But as I got older and started to see which girls wanted to play and would make it to their senior year and which girls didn’t, and it really put an emphasis on the things that he said that made me want to do what I want to do.
“This is a start of a new chapter,” Gregory continued. “I wrote four chapters here and now I get to go write four more there. I’m excited about it. The other three seniors this year don’t get to play volleyball anymore. And I think that’s what allowed me to handle losing so well. I mean it hurt, but I know I’m going to put a jersey on again and I’m going to put the shoes on again and those knee pads and ankle braces on again and I’m going to get to play again at the next level.”
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.