8B - The Michigan Daily - SportsMonday - September 26, 2005
Even after three serious knee injuries forced her to stop
playing, Ashley Buckingham couldn't give up her passion for
volleyball and stayed with the Wolverines as a student assistant.
By Ian Robinson - Daily Sports Writer
t is always easy to think about what could have been - to ponder
the effect that one seemingly insignificant action'might have on the
course of a life.
Even though senior Ashley Buckingham has as much of a right to
do this as anyone, she refuses to play that game.
As a high school All-State selection in 2001, Buckingham came
to Michigan with hopes of being an impact player on a rising Big Ten vol-
But, three serious knee injuries later and before she played single point for
Michigan, doctors told Buckingham that she could no longer be a competi-
Still, Buckingham has no regrets about her experience with Michigan
volleyball. After her third injury, she assumed a role as student assistant for
the volleyball team.
FINDING HER NICHE IN VOLLEYBALL
Growing up in Greenwood, Ind., Buckingham's original passion was
"(My dad and I) would go to the gym, and I would shoot for hours,"
Buckingham said. "We would work on things until they were perfect."
She was not introduced to volleyball until sixth grade when her gym
teacherwAntnr o ter of former Michigan spiker Jennifer Gan-
dolph) -noticed Buckingham's height and athleticism.
Having already established herself in basketball, Buckingham initially
brushed off the suggestion. But aftermaking an Indianapolis travel squad,
she soon found her niche.
In high school, Buckingham was a three-sport star - earning accolades
in volleyball, basketball and track and field.
By her junior year, she began to attract the attention of both college bas-
ketball and volleyball coaches and was pressured to choose one of them.
"I just liked playing (volleyball) better, and I liked my teammates," Buck-
Jennifer Gandolph - who graduated last year and is currently the assis-
tant volleyball coach at the University of New Orleans - played alongside
Buckingham for three years in high school.
"She made a statement on the floor and would let people know when
we won a point," Gandolph said about Buckingham. "She got everybody
around her fired up."
Buckingham's passion for volleyball was only heightened by winning the
state championship her junior year. Gandolph recalls the event as her favor-
ite high school memory.
"It was an amazing experience for both of us," Gandolph said.
BECOMING A WOLVERINE
uring her recruitment process, Buckingham developed a passion
for the Michigan program.
f"I chose Michigan because the people were real with me," Buck-
ingham said. "You certainly want to come here because of the good program
and amazing academics, but it's more about relationships."
At a club tournament in the summer before her junior year, with Michi-
gan coach Mark Rosen and Gandolph in attendance, Buckingham notified
Rosen of her intention to attend Michigan.o
"We had her call (Rosen's) cell phone that day in the gym to commit,"
ane ha her callthrsen)ce hoine that dayin h gymo"
ingham said. "Spring season, I was a starter and excited to get back in the
fall as a redshirt freshman."
Buckingham's career took another hit when she returned home to Green-
wood the summer after her freshman year. While participating in condition-
ing drills with the high school football team, she landed awkwardly on her
left leg and re-tore her ACL.
Despite the setback, Buckingham was not discouraged.
"I rehabbed my sophomore year and got ready to compete for a spot my
redshirt sophomore year," Buckingham said.
The final blow to her volleyball career came the next summer when she
tore both of her menisci.
"After that, I asked the doctors what I need to do to get back," Bucking-
ham said. "They told me, 'Ashley, you can't do this to your body anymore.
It won't hold up any longer.' "
STAYING WITH THE PROGRAM
After an initial feeling of devastation, Buckingham realized that her
Michigan experience would not. be complete without continued
involvement in the volleyball program. Buckingham and coaches
Mark and Leisa Rosen discussed ways that she could remain involved. They
established a role for her as a student assistant.
"Leaving the team was never an option for me or for them," Bucking-
ham said. "I had invested so much time and energy into a program that I
believe in. My best friends are on the team, and I am very close with the
Buckingham's decision to stay with the team has earned her admiration
from her teammates.
"I respect her for the impact she has had on Michigan volleyball," redshirt
junior captain Erin Cobler said. "A lot of people, when they are injured and
can no longer get the glory any more, would give up and leave the program.
(Buckingham) made a commitment her senior year of high school, and she
has taken it seriously."
Buckingham worked with the coaching staff to find her new niche on
the team. Performing similar tasks, such as recruitment, as when she
was recovering from her knee injuries, she has easily slipped into her
On a personal level, Leisa Rosen feels that she has benefited from Buck-
ingham's continued participation in the program.
"She is such a mature, incredible person to be around," Rosen said. "We
are extremely lucky - the volleyball program and me personally - to
have her stay involved."
Although Buckingham's duties also include assisting with the team's
marketing and promotion, her main task involves recruiting. She is
an integral part of the process with duties such as writing letters to
potential recruits and escorting them when they come on official and
"She sits and talks with (the recruits) during practices instead of them just
sitting and watching practice," Rosen said. "Every recruit that got to know
her just raved about her and the person that she is."
One current volleyball player that Buckingham helped recruit is
freshman Beth Karpiak - who coincidentally wears Buckingham's old
No. 2 jersey.
"She was really positive and upbeat, willing to answer any questions I
I I _. - -r- . . . .0
had," Karpiak said. "On my first visit, we sat and talked in the Diag. She also
talked with my parents about the coaches, balancing class and volleyball and
how it is being part of the Michigan volleyball team."
Buckingham is serious about helping the team's recruiting efforts and
enjoys building relationships that can last from the time that she begins until
prospects make their final decisions.
"I take it personally, and they become friends of mine, because I care
about them and their futures," Buckingham said. "I loved recruiting (Kar-
piak) and I loved her family. And now, she is going to be an impact player
Buckingham also contributed to the recruitment of three current
starters - sophomores Lyndsay Miller, Katie Bruzdzinski and redshirt
freshman Mara Martin.
"It is the fruits of my labor because I worked really hard and they are here
now," Buckingham said.
Her level of commitment to recruitment does not come as a surprise to her
teammates who observe her habits on a daily basis.
"She has one of the strongest work ethics of anyone I have ever known,"
Cobler said. "Even though she can't play on the court, she works her butt
off - working out physically, with school and helping out with recruiting."
A ROLE MODEL
lthough no longer a competitor, Buckingham feels intimately con-
nected with the rest of the team.
"The (team members) are like my sisters," Buckingham said. "This
is my family up at Michigan."
When she played in high school, Buckingham was a vocal and energetic
player on the court. In her new role, Leisa Rosen sees Buckingham as one of
the team's leaders, but in a slightly different capacity.
"She is comfortable in the role that she had established for herself being an
emotional leader on the team, instead of a physical leader," Rosen said.
In fact, the team's captains sometimes approach Buckingham for advice
because of her unique perspective.
"I look to her because she knows Michigan volleyball and what we stand
for and value," Cobler said. "She is in the unique position that she has been
in the program just as long as me but she can step back and see things that I
can't see - like the team dynamic."
Even though Buckingham does not have a specific role on the road, she
travels with the team and provides any support or assistance the team needs.
"I am just a teammate that doesn't get to suit up for the games," Bucking-
ham said. "I am in there with the inside jokes, the fun, in the back of the bus
and in the middle of the talks."
Another aspect of Buckingham's association with the sport includes doing
color commentary for Comcast. After broadcasting several Michigan vol-
leyball matches and the Mid-American Conference Championship last year,
Buckingham plans on doing more of the same this year.
"It was a great opportunity that fell into my lap," Buckingham said.
In addition to her involvement in the volleyball program, Buckingham's
injuries have opened opportunities for her to be more active in the commu-
nity. She spends her time volunteering once a week at C.S. Mott Children's
Hospital and reading to children.
"I love helping others," Buckingham said. "I need to feel like I am being
productive, and I love being around people."
With all of the opportunities, both on and off the court, her mother
feels that Buckingham has maximized her college experience, despite