When Ashley Gerken was in eighth grade, the Dos Pueblos High girls basketball team was making history on the floor of Sovine Gymnasium.
During the 2016-17 season, the Chargers won 20 games, a feat they had not accomplished in more than 20 years according to coach Phil Sherman. They also won a round in the CIF 2AA playoffs before losing in the second round.
Since she was a girl, Gerken has been going to the Sovine gym and other gyms around the area, usually following the girls basketball team as her father, Mike Gerken, has been an assistant coach for the team for over a decade. He is also an assistant coach this year for the Chargers.
“I grew up coming to the gyms with my dad and seeing team after team, year after year. They have all been so good,” Gerken said.
In 2017, Gerken, who has been playing basketball since she was in third grade, finally got her chance to be apart of some Chargers’ glory.
Despite making the varsity roster as a freshman, however, DP did not enjoy the same level of success.
In her first year, the team went just 4-11 and as a sophomore, though she and her teammates improved a good amount, the team finished 10-13.
Neither year resulted in a trip to the CIF playoffs.
No player hopes to be apart of the down years in a program’s history, but with high school sports, it’s all but guaranteed those years will happen at some point.
In Gerken’s case, she lived through two of those tough seasons.
“Obviously, I feel like how anyone would feel. All these teams before you have been so good and now you’re just that one team that’s just not like that,” Gerken said.
The losses hurt, but for Gerken, she never thought about them for too long. She never had thoughts of quitting or leaving. In fact, she only focused on how the team could improve.
“(Those losses have) never broken my spirit,” Gerken said.
“I mean it’s always tough starting at that low position, losing every game but I think it also helps me and the team learn what we need to do to get better and how to get there.”
Despite not having a winning season in her sophomore campaign, Gerken saw the year as a turning point.
She was the teams leading scorer and, despite struggling with her leadership role, she really felt growth in that department last season.
“I think it’s tougher for me at practice because I am not that serious type, but when we are in games, it comes a lot more naturally to me,” Gerken said.
When thinking back to some of the teams she saw when she was younger, Gerken said, “They set the bar really high and I think it always gives us something to strive for.”
This season, DP is certainly coming a lot closer to some of those old teams.
Through 14 games this season, the Chargers are 10-4 with Gerken leading the team in scoring averaging 10.7 points per contest.
DP has also won two tournament titles this season, one at the Nordhoff Tournament and the other at the Bird Cage Classic.
“I’m a little bit shocked but I knew from the beginning we had a lot of good girls with a lot of skill. Last year, we also really started becoming closer and I think that’s especially true this year. We’re all super close and that’s really, really nice,” Gerken said.
When asked if how this team stacks up to some of the teams she saw growing up, Gerken said: “I personally don’t think we’re there yet I think we could potentially get there by the end of the season.”
While the team is not playing the same competition it has in previous years, the wins prove they are showcasing not only talent but an improvement.
“We have learned from those tough games and shown that we have gotten better and eventually start winning some of these (games),” Gerken said.
Another thing motivating DP is the fact that just a few more wins would make them eligible for the Div. 4A postseason, a place where it can certainly do some damage.
“We have shown throughout the preseason that we can play with most teams and so I think we could definitely get there. And, for me, being in that position is so cool. Not everybody gets a chance to do that so if we could, it would be really exciting,” Gerken said.
Being the teams leading scorer comes with it a lot of pressure. But, for Gerken it doesn’t faze her.
Not just because she believes in her shooting, but because she knows she can affect the games in other ways, as evident by her team-leading 2.3 steals per game, 2.3 assists per game and 3.5 rebounds per game, tied for third-most on the team.
“I just know I can get it done. I have my off days, but I always try to help in other ways. It’s not just helping by scoring, it’s also getting others the opportunity so that they can help us,” Gerken said.
“I also just love the girls. It’s like a glue that holds us together.”
Still, what awaits DP is no easy task. The last time the Chargers beat Santa Barbara High was in the 2016-17 season. And last year, DP finished tied for last, beating only San Marcos.
“Our league is tough,” Gerken said.
“But we just have to play how we have been playing. We have been playing so hard in these tournaments and that will be key. Last year we got off to slow starts and that hurt us but we have to be able to bring that toughness into league.”
The last two seasons may not have been what Gerken was expecting when she started high school, but the losses drove her and her team to be better.
Now, the Chargers are in a position Gerken has seen before many, many times. A chance to make a run.
“I know the odds are stacked against us, but I know we could play with good teams and we have to show that … (And if we could make the postseason) we might even be able to go far so that is very, very exciting,” Gerken said.