When initially approached about playing an exhibition game against the University of Dayton’s women’s basketball team today at UD Arena, Ashland coach Sue Ramsey said one of the first people she talked to was Kari Daugherty:
“I asked her, ‘Kari, how do you feel about that?’ And she said, ‘Well, Coach, how do YOU feel?’ I told her, ‘Hey, let’s do it,’ and she laughed and said, ‘OK, what a great publicity stunt.’ ”
So now the veteran coach and the Eagles’ star player are out to prove that you not only can come home again, but you can do it in glorious fashion.
UD — albeit there was a decade and a half in between their times as a Flyer — was once home to both women.
Ramsey was the head women’s coach for eight seasons and left when her contract was not renewed in 1994.
Daugherty played for the Flyers two seasons before transferring to Ashland in the spring of 2011.
And if you are wondering how they’re doing now, all you need to do is look at Daugherty’s head. That’s quite a crown she’s wearing. In more ways than one, she’s returning to Dayton as a much-trumpeted queen.
A year ago — thanks especially to the play of Daugherty and the coaching of Ramsey — Ashland put together a nation’s-best, 33- game winning streak and made it to the NCAA Division II national championship game, where it was edged in overtime.
At season’s end, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association named Ramsey the NCAA Division II Coach of the year and last month Miami University, her alma mater, enshrined her in its prestigious Cradle of Coaches.
Meanwhile, Daugherty was named the NCAA Division II Student Athlete of the Year. That award included all schools and all sports and, as Ramsey noted, “Kari was certainly deserving. She encompasses everything an athlete is and should be in an ideal world.”
On the court, the 6-foot-1 guard/forward averaged 21.3 points and 14.1 rebounds a game. She not only led the nation in rebounds, but in double-double (27) performances.
In the classroom, she posted a 3.97 grade point average.
On campus — where she is especially active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — she leads a bible study for all university women every Sunday evening.
“She’s an amazing young lady,” Ramsey said. “Take away basketball and she’s still an amazing young lady. She does it all.
“As for her basketball, I’ve been coaching a long time and I don’t know if I’ve ever coached as fierce of a competitor. When one of your best players is your hardest worker, good things come.”
And there’s one more thing Ramsey said with a laugh: “She’s been here just a year, but two weeks ago she was crowned Ashland’s Homecoming Queen.”
Always a champ
Daugherty grew up on a dairy farm in Coshocton Country. She and her older sister, Kristin, led River View High to back-to-back girls basketball state titles. Their mom, Caroline — who played her college hoops at Ohio University, where she’s in the school’s hall of fame — was their coach.
Kristin came to UD and was a star, scoring 1,497 career points and earning All-Atlantic 10 Conference honors three seasons in a row. Two years younger, Kari followed her to Dayton and her sophomore she season played in 33 games, started six and was fourth on the team in scoring and third in 3-point accuracy.
Although she kept it to herself, she was becoming increasingly unhappy and homesick. While she said she liked her teammates and coaches, she felt the school wasn’t a perfect fit for her growing embrace of her Christianity.
As she considered her options, she sat down with UD coach Jim Jabir and he, like others, thought Ashland would be a good place for her.
“They had a scholarship open,” Daugherty said. “It was just an hour away from my home, it was a Division II school so I wouldn’t have to sit out a year and it really has a good religious life on campus… And Coach Ramsey is a strong Christian woman who has become a perfect role model for me.”
Ramsey said she was familiar with the Daugherty family, as well.
“When I was an assistant at Miami, I coached against Kari’s mom when she was at OU. And Lisa Green, who played for me at UD, she played for Kari’s grandfather at River View.
“I’d met Kari when she was a little kid and I recruited one of her cousins who ended up at Findlay. There have always been a lot of connections and this just seemed to fit.”
And, of course, there were the UD ties.
After Ramsey left Dayton — where she complied a 95-128 record — she, too, found a perfect fit at Ashland and enters her 18th season there with a 287-195 record.
Yet even with all those links, Daugherty admits she left UD with mixed emotions.
“It was very scary for me the day I packed up all my stuff and knew I was never coming back to Dayton,” she said. “I loved my time there and there were some relationships I was really going to miss.
“At first I worried I might just be heading off to another place where I’d be really unhappy again. But then I just left it in God’s hands that He’d lead me down the right path. And I’ve got to say, I’ve grown as a person and enjoyed every second here.“
Neither Ramsey nor Daugherty has been back on the UD Arena court since they left.
Ramsey said she’s attended a few NCAA regional games as a fan and Daugherty did the same last season when she returned to watch her former teammates play Temple.
“Running out on the floor the first time will be a little crazy, though,” Daugherty said. “I spent two years of my basketball career running in with the home team, doing the chant with them and having the Dayton Flyers band cheer us.
“It will be strange lining up against my old teammates; but once we start playing, I think it will be just another game. It’s going to be a great test for my team. Dayton’s picked first in the A-10 this year and Kristin told me they have something like the top-rated recruiting class outside BCS schools. They have five or six returning players who are exceptional.
“But that’s what we want. We’re trying to get better in the preseason.”
The Eagles, who return four starters off last season’s 33-2 team, already have scrimmaged Kent State and Bowling Green.
“After losing in the championship game last year, we want to win the title this year,” Daugherty said. “And I just want to make sure every time out onto the court I do everything I can to help my team reach that goal.”
She said her game has changed since she played at UD:
“At Dayton I was more of a shooting guard and don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy catching on the perimeter, pulling up and shooting the three. But in Division II I’m able to use my height a little and have an inside presence… My game has expanded.”
It certainly has. Not only did she lead her team last season in scoring, rebounds, steals and blocked shots, but she really made her mark with an assist.
After another coach heard Kari talk glowingly about her older sister — who now works for the Ohio High School Athletic Association and lives in Columbus — she introduced Kristin to men’s assistant coach Jared Ronai.
“Now they’re pretty grateful I moved here to Ashland, too,” Kari chuckled. “They’re engaged and getting married in May.”