Since 2008, Our Redeemer's Christian School's Ashley Koppinger has been a staple on the Knights' volleyball roster.
Now, the senior outside hitter is playing in her final Region 6 tournament, seeking the elusive state tournament appearance that is missing from her seemingly endless list of awards and achievements.
Koppinger has well over 1,000 kills for her career, reaching the milestone as a junior. In 2011 alone, she was named to the all-state, all-district and all-region teams. She repeated as an all-district and all-region selection this year. But Koppinger is quick to point out her team as a key reason for her success.
MDN File Photo
Our Redeemer’s Christian School senior outside hitter Ashley Koppinger goes up for a spike during a match last year against Des Lacs-Burlington.
"I've just been blessed with players that play like a team and that helps a lot," Koppinger said.
Since picking up volleyball in sixth grade, Koppinger has garnered the respect of teammates and coaches with her play on the court and her humility.
"She's a very humble girl," ORCS coach Sherry Carlson said. "You would never hear about her accomplishments from her. She goes out and does what she's supposed to do."
Carlson has coached Koppinger for five years at the varsity level and has enjoyed every minute.
"Ashley is just one of those that is eager to learn," Carlson said. "She wants to do everything right so she'll work on it until it's there. You can count on her in the front row and the back row."
Koppinger plays basketball for the Knights, but said volleyball has always been her favorite sport.
She also plays an active role with the Our Redeemer's Lutheran Church, assisting with vacation bible school and Sunday school. Volleyball takes a backseat to her work with the church, but her love for the game continues.
"It's the sport I started with and I just loved it," Koppinger said. "My love for the game grew over the years."
Her skills grew as well. Koppinger's offensive ability came naturally, but her improvement in the defensive game has made her an all-around great player. A few colleges currently recruiting Koppinger want her to play solely in the back row.
"It's been fun to watch her develop as a player," Glenburn coach Lyndsi Engstrom said. "Her offense is her true strength, but her defense has become better. Athletically, she's unbelievable. People in the stands are overwhelmed by her athletic talent."
On the court
In 14 October matches, Koppinger averaged 15.8 kills, 9.7 digs, 2.4 aces and 2.4 blocks. She never finished with less than 12 kills.
"It's amazing watching her with all of the talent she has," senior outside hitter Billie Bangen said. "She amazes me every game with just all that she can do."
Koppinger led the Knights to a 6-1 record and a second-place finish in the Des Lacs-Burlington Laker Invitational - considered by many coaches to be the most competitive tournament in Class B. She finished with 89 kills in seven matches, 54 more than senior middle hitter Emily VanLith, who had the second-most kills for the Knights during the tournament.
"It's been amazing because she's a very talented athlete," VanLith said. "She also has a humble attitude so it's easy to play with her and encourage her."
One of her best performances came in a five-set victory over Kenmare on Oct. 9. After the Knights dropped the first two sets, Koppinger led the comeback that ultimately gave the Knights the District 12 regular-season title. Koppinger finished the game with 28 digs, 27 kills and six blocks.
"It's amazing watching her with all of the talent that she has," ORCS senior outside hitter Billie Bangen said. "She amazes me every game with just all that she can do."
Despite being swept by Kenmare in her final district tournament game, Koppinger recorded 15 kills, 12 digs, four blocks and two aces. Honkers coach Tim Wallstrum has coached against Koppinger for five years and, although his team has won the district tournament each season, he's amazed by her ability.
"She is one of, if not, the best players in the state," Wallstrum said. "She's an unbelievable player. I've loved watching her from the day she started playing."
Carlson said Koppinger is just as easy to coach today as she was as an eighth-grader. Carlson's favorite coaching moment came during a match against Billings West (Mont.) in the Dickinson tournament in September. Billings West had limited Koppinger's offensive production by putting a two-to-three person block on her. Carlson pulled her aside and told her how to get around the blocks. Koppinger took her advice and rallied the Knights to a 2-1 victory.
"Instead of being put down by the big blocks, she decided 'OK, I'm the only one that can change this' and she went out and changed it," Carlson said. "That's always nice to see as a coach."
No one was surprised when Koppinger was named District 12 senior athlete of the year following the district tournament final. The eight coaches who voted for the award were unanimous.
"It's fun to get an athlete to get to that level, to be the senior athlete," Carlson said. "What was so sweet about it was the district was unanimous. They know that she's a stud and she has a lot going for her."
Koppinger finished the district tournament with 42 kills, 34 digs, 11 aces and 10 blocks in three matches.
"As coaches, we all wanted her to have the award," Engstrom said. "She deserves it."
Koppinger has yet to make a decision about where she will play college volleyball, but not for a lack of interest in her services. She 's being recruited by Minot State University, Jamestown College, the University of North Dakota and Hamline University (a Division III school in St. Paul, Minn.).
Fellow coaches are eager to see where she ends up and are rooting for continued success at the college level.
"Everybody's excited and happy for her," Engstrom said. "She's a force to be reckoned with."
There is still work to be done before Koppinger's career with the Knights ends. ORCS looks for its first state appearance since 2004 as the Region 6 tournament begins today at the Minot Municipal Auditorium. The second-seeded Knights from District 12 play third-seeded Rugby from District 11.
"We've been trying to get to state for a long time and it's been a big goal for us for about five years," VanLith said. "It's always been our dream and we'll be very excited if that happens."
If the tournament seeds hold up, the Knights would have to knock off District 11 No. 1 Velva in the semifinals and rival Kenmare in the title match. Only the region champion advances to the state tournament.