Brad Monastiere has been the sports information director at Hillsdale College since 2005 and has served as the chair of the athletic hall of fame committee since 2015. Here is his accounting of 2018 Hillsdale College Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Ashlee Crowder.
What a player. What a force. There are some athletes who, when they walk into a venue, just grab your attention without doing anything to purposefully grab your attention. Ashlee Crowder was one of those players. Outgoing and charismatic, Ashlee was one of those natural born stars on the volleyball court.
On the court, she was as strong a player as I've ever seen at the Division II level. A quick jump combined with a powerful swing, opposing players more often would rather dodge Ashlee's attacks than to try to dig them.
Her Hall of Fame résumé started getting built just three months after she arrived on Hillsdale's campus in the Fall of 2008. She was named GLIAC Freshman of the Year, just the second player in school history to earn that honor (Taryn Rudland, 2003). Although the Chargers were knocked out of the conference tournament that year, it would end up being the last time Crowder lost a GLIAC Tournament match.
Thanks in part to her dominating play and a maturing team around her, Hillsdale would go on to win an unprecedented three straight GLIAC Tournament championships, with medals being bestowed on our home court in 2009 and 2010. But perhaps no conference title was sweeter than the one won by Ashlee and the Chargers in 2011.
Ferris State won the GLIAC regular season title via tiebreaker with Hillsdale that year, and hosted the conference tournament semifinals and finals. The Bulldogs beat the Chargers during the regular season on a Saturday. The day before, Ferris State played its match at noon on a Friday while Hillsdale needed five sets to edge Saginaw Valley State on the road. Despite the home court disadvantage, Hillsdale eagerly anticipated a rematch with the Bulldogs in the GLIAC championship game.
The Chargers trailed the Bulldogs 19-18 in the third set when Hillsdale went on a run to remember. Crowder had three kills among the seven straight points Hillsdale scored to end the match and clinch the championship. One of her best friends, Brogan Wells, served all seven points, while Morgan Podkul – who together with Ashlee and Brogan made up the triumvirate of BAM – made several big-time digs during that 7-0 run to put the finishing touches on an accomplishment previously unmatched in GLIAC volleyball history.
A week later, Ashlee was at the center of what could stand as one of the greatest moments ever experienced by a Hillsdale College team here on our campus. She led the Chargers to the 2011 Midwest Regional championship, the first-ever for a Hillsdale team at the NCAA Division II level. Huge crowds packed the then-Jesse Phillips Arena to watch Hillsdale win a regional in its seventh NCAA postseason appearance.
The match-clinching point was scored by Ashlee - of course - but the point that stands out for me occured much earlier. The first set between Hillsdale and Indianapolis was an absolute classic. The Chargers trailed the Greyhounds 31-30 when Ashlee jumped as high as I've ever seen her jump and smashed a kill down on the UIndy side to tie the set at 31. The Chargers would score the final three points of the set to win 33-31. Keep in mind, regulation volleyball sets go to 25, so for eight points, we were in a sudden death situation. I have never head the Phillips Arena crowd as loud as when that 33rd point hit the floor.
That year, Ashlee would be named GLIAC Player of the Year, Midwest Region Player of the Year and First-Team All-American. She finished as Hillsdale's career leader in kills with 1,703. Sounds like a charmed life, right?
Ashlee has endured more than her share of adversity on the way to our athletic hall of fame. At a young age, she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Twenty-four-hour-a-day maintenance was required to help Ashlee fight off this disease. Extra precautions were taken throughout her practice and playing days to make sure her blood sugar wouldn't drop too low, causing her to black out, or worse. With the help of invaluable athletic trainers, she was able to wear a diabetic pump on her hip while she played to make sure she stayed physically balanced during exhilarating competition.
Then during her sophomore year of 2009-10, Ashlee lost her father Donald. The loss of a parent is traumatic for any person, but for Ashlee, the loss stung deeply. As much as Ashlee helped carry her team physically on the court, she was able to lean on her teammates – especially Morgan and Brogan – off the court as she dealt with the kind of trauma a college sophomore shouldn't have to deal with. The tears, sadness and feeling of loss was something Ashlee experienced at far too young of an age, but she got through it with the love and support of her teammates, especially from the other two components of BAM - Morgan and Brogan. The three of them grew very close during their freshman year and that bond is just as strong today even as they all have gone in their unique directions in life. Brogan married former Charger football player and current member of the U.S. military Cody Henderson. Morgan also married her college boyfriend, current NFL player Jared Veldheer. Ashlee has stayed in the volleyball world and is the new top assistant coach at Florida Southern College, the 2017 NCAA Division II runner-up.
That nexus of two-way support between those three extraordinary women, on and off the court, is one of the great human stories I've ever seen unfold during my time here at Hillsdale.