CEDAR RAPIDS — Through the first month of the women’s basketball season, Ashley Tull has quickly distinguished herself at Kirkwood.
The Eagles freshman and North Linn graduate leads her team in scoring with 10.6 points per game, which her coach credits to the foundation of any athletic success — good old-fashioned hustle and effort.
“She just plays hard all the time,” Kirkwood Coach Kim Muhl said. “That’s half her deal. She’s a good kid and she works at her game. She has just risen above because of her work ethic.”
Tull was a first team all-state selection in Class 2A last year at North Linn, where she played all four years and helped the Lynx win 92 games and reach two state tournaments. With Kirkwood, the 5-foot-11 forward has been forced to make significant adjustments to her game.
“Well, I’m definitely not ‘big’ anymore in comparison to everybody else,” Tull said with a laugh. “So that’s very different. I have to adjust my post moves.”
While Tull credits her early scoring success to “rebounds and putbacks,” defense is where she looks demonstrably different from high school. At North Linn, she was primarily asked to cover a given area (or zone) on the floor. With the Eagles, she guards a corresponding player from the opposition (man-to-man), which presents another new challenge.
“Being able to pay attention and focus on the ball and the girl and stay with that,” said Tull, who is tied for second on the team with 4.6 rebounds per game and has also blocked a team-high eight shots, including six in the last three contests. “I’ve been losing her a lot because I am used to zone and I just stand there. … It’s gotten a lot better since Week 1 to here, so I’m pretty enthused.”
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Kirkwood (5-3) — ranked second in the NJCAA Division II preseason poll — has won four games in a row since a difficult early schedule yielded a 1-3 start. With no starters back from the team that finished 34-4 and reached the national championship game last season, Muhl seeks communication, consistent play and maturity from the young Eagles.
“It’s taking a while,” Muhl said. “It’s going to take a little bit longer, too. We’re playing better. Early on, we were struggling maturity-wise and how hard you’ve got to play and how hard you’ve got to work every day. They’re starting to get it. Little by little.”
Sophomore Mackenzie Jenkins (9.1 points, team-high 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game) is the other forward alongside Tull, while sophomore Haley Mullinnix — who prepped at West Branch — is part of a three-guard lineup that includes fellow sophomore Anasha Hurst (8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and team-best 2.6 steals per game). Freshman guard and Ames native Amara Lipsey is expected to return to the lineup soon after missing the last six games due to injury. In the meantime, freshman Ju Gaston has matched Jenkins with 2.8 assists per game.
“It’s been a challenge,” Tull said. “Getting used to playing with everybody’s styles. But now that we’re a couple of months in, it’s a lot better and easier to feel how they play and know whose tendencies does what. We’ve been jiving a lot better.”
Kirkwood visits Iowa Western (5-4) on Saturday.
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