Wallace excels at a number of sports

Dave Dawson Special to The Packet & Times

Editor's Note: Six local athletes have been nominated for Orillia Athlete of the Year for 2011: Steve Sasseville, Matth Payne, Rick McKillop, Scott Seymour, Ashley Wallace and Benoit Osborne. In the coming days, The Packet will profile each of these worthy nominees. Today, we take a look at Ashley Wallace.

During her elementary school wrestling career, Ashley Wallace never lost a bout and excelled at various school sports. She also starred on several local softball teams and not only made an elite boys' squad but went on to become the team's top player.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg for this dedicated and versatile 14-year-old - now in her first year of high school at Park Street Collegiate Institute - who has been nominated as Orillia's Athlete of the Year.

"Special athletes don't come along that often, but when they do, they stand out and Ashley is one of those," said Dave Mahaffey, coach of the Coldwater Rippers, Wallace's bantam softball team. Calling her "a coach's dream," Mahaffey said Wallace worked her way out of a hitting slump and was on top of her game for an impressive playoff run that saw the team crowned Georgian Bay Minor Softball League (GBMSL) champs.

"I have never seen in a female athlete, at so young an age, that combination of power and speed. Balls don't jump off her bat, they explode," Mahaffey said. "Then the really beautiful thing happens: She takes off out of the batter's box with overpowering strides and stretches singles into doubles, doubles into triples and triples into home runs."

She also exhibits leadership. "Her modest behaviour, gentle nature and attitude is infectious and rubs off on everyone," her coach said.

Wallace also captained the GBMSL peewee squad, playing first base and centre field, leading the team to a second-place finish at a mid-season tourney and a championship title against an all-boys' team. She was awarded Offensive Player of the Year after hitting .525 and sporting an on-base average of .655.

She brought that same approach to tryouts for the peewee rep softball team - typically a boys' domain.

"Each year, I hold tryouts for a boys' rep softball team with the intention of competing for an Ontario championship," said coach Norm Robitaille, who noted this is the highest level of softball in Ontario. This summer, Wallace cracked the lineup - a unanimous choice of Robitaille and his three other coaches.

Their confidence was well founded. "We chose Ashley as one of our captains" and she was "our most reliable player," Robitaille said. "She played four different positions and earned the most playing time of all the players. She was by far our most athletic and complete player."

With the help of Wallace, who had some critical hits and key defensive plays in the Ontario playdowns, the squad won a bronze medal in the provincial championships.

Warminster Elementary School teacher Gerry Stockdale taught Wallace and coached her in a variety of sports. "Ashley is an exceptional athlete with diverse talents," Stockdale said. "Despite being a fierce competitor, she possesses desirable character attributes inherent to true leaders."

Wallace led Warminster's senior girls' basketball team to four tournament titles in 2011 and an all-time best for the school - a fourth-place finish at the Simcoe County championships. Wallace also led the school's senior girls' volleyball team to three tourney titles and a fifth-place finish at the county championships.

Off the court, Wallace shone as well, winning first place in the ball throw and anchoring the school's 4 X 100-metre relay team to an area title and a second-place finish at a provincial meet. In wrestling, Wallace went undefeated during her career (18-0) and capped off her time at Warminster by capturing her fourth straight area and county championship in her weight class in 2011.

Thanks to those accomplishments, Wallace was named her schools' athlete of the year for 2011. In addition, she won the citizenship award at her school for 2011.

"Ashley was a true ambassador for Warminster Elementary School - both on and off the court," Stockdale said. "She served as an inspiration to teammates and coaches alike."

Wallace began high school in the fall of 2011 and immediately made her mark, earning a spot on the Park Street junior girls' volleyball squad, impressing coach Daryl Lapointe.

"Ashley is an extremely valuable member of our team because of her high level of skill, dedication and determination," Lapointe said, noting Wallace has an "incredibly powerful hit and serve."

While her skill level is high, so too is her determination. "Ashley is an extremely determined player who is willing to sacrifice herself for every point," Lapointe said, adding Wallace is apt to dive, lunge and run down any ball. "Ashley is a tremendous volleyball player that any team in the city would be lucky to have."

The Orillia Suns Volleyball Club agrees. Wallace was a key member of both the Orillia Suns 14U and 15U teams during 2011, bringing "energy, drive and determination to the gym" to these rep squads.

"If you saw her team practise or compete, she would stand out for her energy level, quickness, tenacity, anticipation, strength, body control, work ethic and remarkable plays," said Tony DiBacco, who coached her for three seasons with the Suns. He said many opposing coaches have commented on her strong play.

That strong individual play has translated into team success. Wallace has been a key member of the most successful Orillia Suns teams in the club's history; her teams have now medaled in three straight Ontario Volleyball Association tournaments.

DiBacco said he and Wallace's teammates value her "humility, sportsmanship, sense of team play and her leadership. She leads quietly by example with a strong and uncomplaining work ethic," DiBacco said.

"Ashley is an amazing athlete," said Kayla Latimer, a Suns teammate and fellow Warminster grad who nominated Wallace for Orillia's Athlete of the Year. "Not only is she a great player, but she is a really good person. She never gives up - that is one of the things everyone who watches her play notices."

The Orillia Athlete of the Year award is chosen by a panel of local judges and will be awarded at a city council meeting in late January or early February.

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