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  • Writer's pictureMatt Wynn

Trinity's Ashlyn Milton Always Comes Back To Basketball

Ashlyn Milton always comes back.

Sometimes, she needs to step away.

But no matter what struggle she faces, one thing never changes.

She always comes back to what she loves: basketball.

Crawling To Balling

Milton’s basketball journey started on her living room floor in diapers, crawling and pushing a ball in front of her.

Her parents, Christy and Scott Milton, played in high school, perhaps passing down the basketball gene.

“I started feeding her a kiddie basketball so she could learn to shoot on her sister's kiddie basketball goal,” Scott Milton recalled. “The first time I took her out to shoot, she was barely two. She would not miss! I kid you not. I thought it was luck at first, but it wasn’t. It was her gift from God.”

For as long as Milton could recall, her father made sure she had a hoop to hone her skills or play a game of PIG.

Basketball always came naturally, but Milton still excelled at any sport she played.

“She was also able to overhand serve in volleyball from 2nd grade and also played tennis and golf,” Christy Milton recalled. “Her favorite was flag football and the couple of years she played she was the best one on the team. She could throw, catch, and run better than most of the boys.”

When she started competing in YMCA youth basketball games, the coach’s strategy boiled down to saying, “Get the ball to Ashlyn!”

Her earliest memory actually stems from one of those games at the Y: Defender in her face with hands up . . . She takes the shot anyway, . . .The ball flies right through though those hands . . .It hits backboard, and . . . Count it! Yeah, that might stick with a kid.

Her motivation, however, wavered later in elementary school due to circumstances out of her control.

Around the time she entered 3rd grade, Milton’s parents divorced, drowning her in a sea of worries.

Milton wanted an escape, decided to hit the gym, and started shooting over and over.

“It felt natural to me,” she said.

She found the gym cathartic, but the situation kept overwhelming her.

She then questioned whether she wanted to play basketball that summer.

He mom told her, "Then don't - you don't have to do anything you don't want to do."

And Milton decided to give it a try. So no basketball.

She watched her friends travel and play. But no basketball for Milton.

And she navigated this major transitional period - without basketball.

She then began realizing what the sport meant to her

Basketball was a part of her identity, and removing it from her life brought more distress than relaxation.

She got right back to it.

High School Drama

Milton started her next level of education at Tascosa High School in Amarillo, Texas.

Her freshman year, she played on the varsity squad. In this new setting, her new challenge was not basketball itself, but figuring out the social aspects around the sport.

In this new setting she found basketball less challenging than the social aspects around the sport. She felt isolated as the only freshman playing.

Milton knew her friends she played with previously attended Amarillo High School, And her father had moved to that district.

After much deliberation, she transferred to Amarillo. With the change, a new problem reared its head.

Milton’s former coach petitioned against her playing varsity basketball at Amarillo, ripping her away from friends - and basketball

She appeared before the school board, pleading her case. She explained the isolation from friends she experienced.

And she could do noting more. She had to leave it in the board’s hands.

Decision: petition denied. Milton and basketball reunited again.

At Amarillo, Milton entered a more successful program that fit her needs academically and athletically.

Having her friends by her side helped her shine, and they ran their conference with an unmatched synergy.

With them, she made some of the best high school basketball memories she can recall. (Yes, even better than that YMCA bank shot.) The team won back to back state championships her junior and senior year. In both, she was named MVP.

Basketball Calling Dr. Ashlyn - Or Not

Milton went into high school with the notion that she would strictly focus on academics in college, but her love of the game made it hard to let go.

Her junior year, she traveled with her AAU team, Hoop Select 10, where she caught the eyes of recruiters across the nation.

She started realizing how basketball can act as a springboard to great college education.

“The Air Force Academy tried recruiting me pretty hard,” Milton said.

She believed that if she wanted to pursue pre-med, basketball on top of the coursework would be enough strain. She could not imagine putting cadet training in that mix and follow all of it up with military service directly after her time there.

It was out of the question.

Other opportunities arose, like the University of Texas (UT), but going to UT would spell the likely end of her basketball career as it would be strictly for academics.

Then, she found Trinity University.

The school wanted her, and she enjoyed the idea of meaning something to the school instead of being just another name in a system.

But academics stayed her greatest priority, and letting go of UT proved difficult.

Milton determined that her plans to become a doctor came first. She made a phone call to Trinity’s then assistant coach, Joe Shotland, to explain she had decided to attend UT.

Shotland offered her a few kind words, saying, “You are the most amazing player and I know you would do well on and off the court.”

What he mentioned next sat with Milton for a long time.

“Remember, it’s a lot easier to give basketball a try and then go to UT.”

Something clicked in her, and she knew from previous experiences how hard it would be to leave the game behind.

Just like that, she’s back with basketball.

She already knew she had support at Trinity in Samantha Henry, who she played high school ball with and had known for the better part of a decade.

Despite not starting her freshman year, she made an impression. She dazzled with over 20 minutes a game, averaging 9.9 points with a 41.5% field goal percentage.

Photo and Cover Photo by Samantha Demmon

Quarantine's Toll

Everything was looking up by the end of the year.

And then COVID hit.

COVID sowed seeds of doubt in her, shaking her to her core. Stress built up with no great way to release it while society shut down.

Even when she came back to school in October 2020, she and her teammates could do nothing but play against each other.

Over and over.

Games did not recommence until the following January. And motivation waned.

In addition, as a neuroscience major, she faced coursework that would make an average person’s head spin: physics, Organic Chemistry and more.

Academics remained Milton’s highest priority, and she struggled dedicating time between her life as an athlete and scholar.

Yet again she had to confront the prospect of leaving basketball.

While in the midst of this stretch of stress, Milton went to her coach, Cameron Hill with a need to cut basketball loose for good.

He listened. And understood. And accommodated.

And brought basketball back to her again.

“She is the kind of player that the game of basketball refuses to let go of,” Coach Hill said.

“Basketball would be the easy thing to take off your plate when life gets hard,” Maggie Shipley, one of Milton’s closest friends and teammates, said. “I am not going to lie, I have had a lot of conversations with Ashlyn about wanting to give up basketball, but Ashlyn always comes back.”

Photo by Blair Ashcraft

Happiness And Hoops

During the same time, Milton noticed a correlation between her performance on the court were happiness off the court.

Starting way back in junior year of high school, she kept asking herself the questions, “Who am I? How does love fit into my life?”

Finally, nearly four years later in college, she found answers.

She began deciphering her sexuality and felt comfortable proudly proclaiming her bisexuality.

Coming out can be an extraordinarily difficult task, especially if one hails from from a small, Christian town like Milton's. Summoning courage, she finally talked to her family and told them her truth.

Her sister, Audrey Milton, helped support Ashlyn unconditionally through this time.

Milton found a few struggles with identifying as bisexual, namely people labelling it as “just a phase”. She felt disrespected by the ignorance of people trying to deny her identity.

Milton asked, “Why do you think you know me better than I know myself?”

Developing this new sense of self bolstered her spirits, and she was ready to come back better than ever.

“I felt like I was living my truth,” Milton said. “Basketball was better, I was smiling more, having more fun on the court, I was shooting better, more open with teammates, and having fun again.”

Yes, Ashlyn Milton was back with basketball better than ever.

Photo by Anton Nobel

Setting Records

Catching their stride again post-COVID, Trinity steamrolled their competition.

They blew through their conference, winning the SCAC tournament after a 10-2 season.

Junior year arrived, and Milton poured it on. Twice in one season, she was named the SCAC player of the week.

She earned the distinction once due to her game against Schreiner.

Before her team took the court, Shotland told Milton, “You know, a girl in our conference made ten 3’s in a game and set a conference record.”

(Lauren Fulenwider of Southwestern University had broke the record just weeks prior.)

Milton replied, “So what? I’ve made ten 3’s in a game before, just not in college.”

She kept her cool on the outside, but with her burning desire to win, she took that as a personal challenge.

Trinity hit the court and Milton nailed shot after shot. She scored a whopping 33 points in 24 minutes.

But she did not quite tally 10 threes.

“I was like 7 for 8 and she was something like 10 for 20. . . .I like to think it was accuracy that mattered,” Milton said laughing.

Those seven three-pointers did tied the Trinity record,

And most importantly, they helped the Tigers achieve their highest scoring game ever, winning 122-75.

Games like that propelled Trinity to the quarter finals of the 2021-2022 NCAA DIII Women’s Tournament.

The potential her senior season holds excites her.

Between new students joining the squad and Trinity retaining strong upperclassmen, the quarter finals seem closer than ever.

And had Ashlyn left basketball she would have missed all of this. Hard to imagine how different her life would have been. Actually, it’s impossible imagine.

After all, Ashlyn always comes back.

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