Ashley Joens of Iowa City High is The Gazette's 2018 Female Athlete of the Year

July 8, 2018 | 10:37 am
Iowa City High's Ashley Joens at the Sukup Basketball Complex in Ames, Iowa, on Friday, June 15, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Chapter 1:

AMES — It’s summer at Iowa State University, and Ashley Joens has free time on her hands.

“Sometimes I get a little bored,” she said. “I come to the gym, because there’s not much else to do.”

There’s no place she would rather be. The gym is her sanctuary, the easel on which she created the masterpiece that has been her identity.


“I’m at the school a lot, and there were very few days she wasn’t in the gym with her dad and her two younger sisters,” Iowa City High athletics director Terry Coleman said.

For Joens — and her four sisters — the gym is more than hardwood and hoops. The bouncing of a basketball is their pulse.

It’s been that way from a very, very young age. It’s that way by design.

“From the time they were born, they all had a Nerf ball in their car seat,” said their father, Brian Joens. “When they got a little bigger, we started rolling the ball to them.

“When they could walk, they started dribbling. We had a cement floor in our basement and they were dribbling 15 to 20 minutes a day when they were 3 or 4 years old.”

By all accounts, the Joens girls have embraced the routine without rebellion. The first two have earned Division-I scholarships. Courtney, 20, will be a junior at Illinois and Ashley, 18, is just getting started at ISU. The next two — Aubrey, 16, and Kelsey, 13 — are on a similar track. The last one, Bailey, well ... she’s just 6.

Ashley owns 15 school records at City High, including points in a game (45), season (798) and career (2,158), as well as career rebounds (900). For that brilliance, she becomes a rare one-sport athlete — a one-sport wonder — to earn Gazette Female Athlete of the Year honors.

“It’s going to take three really good players to replace her,” City High girls’ basketball coach Bill McTaggart said. “Gosh, I’m going to miss her.”


City High’s loss is Iowa State’s gain, and after a 14-17 season — the Cyclones’ second sub-.500 campaign in three years — ISU Coach Bill Fennelly is eager to have her on campus.

“She’s going to be an immediate piece of the puzzle for us. We struggled to score last year, and she’ll help us in that regard,” Fennelly said. “She’s good enough at everything. Her versatility ... she’s going to help us a ton, and we need her to.”

Chapter 2:

Basketball runs in the family

Joens owns a basketball pedigree from both sides of the family tree. Her father played at Cedar Rapids Prairie, from which he graduated in 1992. Her mother, Lisa Macke Joens, graduated from Oelwein a year later. She was an all-state six-on-six forward.

Both played at Kirkwood Community College, and Lisa earned a scholarship at Wright State University.

“Dad’s the coach, but Mom’s more athletic,” Ashley said.

She smiled.

“But you probably shouldn’t tell him that.”

Joens vividly remembers the first time she triumphed over her father in one-on-one.

“It was back when we lived in Solon, in the high school gym,” she said. “Now he has no chance.”

Six feet tall, slender yet strong, Joens can handle the ball. She can score and rebound. She can defend. She could play any of the five positions with competence.

“Basketball has become a positionless game,” Fennelly said. “Ashley is basketball player, a pure basketball player with a wide variety of skill sets.”

As a senior, Joens led the state in scoring at 30.7 points per game. Nobody in the state attempted as many free throws (254), nor made as many (204).

She grabbed 11.4 rebounds per contest, shot 61.8 percent from the field, 80.3 percent from the free-throw line, 59.5 percent from 3-point range.

Joens was selected Miss Iowa Basketball 2018, and was named The Gazette’s area player of the year for the second straight year.


Still, she said her career felt incomplete because of one game — a loss to Iowa City West in the Class 5A state-championship game, the Little Hawks’ lone defeat after 26 consecutive victories.

“All I can think about is that one game, and that’s disappointing,” she said. “But you look back at all the games and the accomplishments, the teammates I’ve had, and it’s pretty cool.”

Chapter 3:

The next step

Joens was one of 12 players selected for the Team USA 18-and-under national team. She’ll leave Ames for Colorado Springs on July 20 for training camp, then the team will compete in Mexico the first week of August.

Then it’s back to Ames. She will begin pursuit of a degree in elementary education, and a spot in the Cyclones’ starting lineup.

“I want to start and I want to help contribute,” she said. “I need to get better at everything. I need to get stronger, faster. The girls in the Big 12 are bigger and more physical.”

Joens is pleasant enough, but doesn’t divulge much about herself. “I’m a fairly simple person,” she said.

Fennelly called her “very serious and single-minded,” and that’s accurate.

“If you don’t know her and you see her walking in the hall, you wouldn’t know who she is,” Coleman said. “She’s not pretentious in any way. She’s one of those quiet leaders.”

But she likes kids, a lot. She volunteered three days a week last year at an elementary school. And at City High’s basketball camps, she learns and memorizes every camper’s name.

“She goes above and beyond what you’d expect out of a high-school kid,” McTaggart said. “She’s very considerate, very caring. She’s a hard worker, but she also steps out of her way to help people.”

Joens’ home is just minutes from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But she never received a scholarship offer from Iowa.

“I wouldn’t have gone there anyway. This is a place I can call home,” she said. “The coaches here are all really caring. They’re friendly and supportive.

“I’m excited to play (the Hawkeyes in December). We’re going to beat ‘em.”

Ashley Joens, at a glance

Full name: Ashley Rose Joens

Birth date: March 16, 2000

School: Iowa City High

Family: Parents, Brian and Lisa. Sisters: Courtney, Aubrey, Kelsey and Bailey.

High-school accomplishments: Named Miss Iowa Basketball after a brilliant career in which she set 15 school records, including points in a game (45), season (798) and career (2,158), as well as career rebounds (900). Guided the Little Hawks to a 26-1 record and a Class 5A runner-up finish at the state basketball tournament. Averaged 30.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game as a senior in earning 5A first-team all-state honors for the fourth consecutive year. The Gazette’s girls’ basketball player of the year in 2017 and 2018.

Future plans: Will attend Iowa State University and play women’s basketball. Will major in elementary education.

Final voting

The Top Five:

1. Ashley Joens, Iowa City High (3) 32

2. Kendra Cooper, Lansing Kee (1) 29

3. Autum Barthelman, Sigourney (2) 28

3. Allie Wooldridge, Center Point-Urbana (3) 28

5. Mikalya Nachazel, Springville (1) 17

First-place votes in parentheses

• Meet the Female Athlete of the Year finalists

Others receiving votes:

(alphabetic order)

Tatum Koenig, West Branch

Rylee Menster, Springville (1)

Charlotte Richards, Cedar Rapids Xavier

Felicity Taylor, South Winneshiek

Payton Wensel, Linn-Mar

Others nominated:

(alphabetic order)

Olivia Hellweg, Cedar Rapids Kennedy

Alyssa Jaeger, Springville

Ally Johnson, Linn-Mar

Jayla Johnson, Cedar Rapids Washington

Mia Laube, Marion

Bailey Nock, Iowa City West

Erica Oler, Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Chloe Rice, Marion

Ariana Rolle, Linn-Mar

Maddie Slagle, Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Caitlyn Smith, Marion

Ashley Tull, North Linn

Madi Wagaman, Springville

Jenna Wagemester, Cedar Rapids Prairie