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College basketball: Stomach problems halt Ashley Walters' career at Idaho

'Health was more important' for former Wilsonville High forward


by: IDAHO ATHLETICS - Ashley Walters, who graduated from Wilsonville High School in 2010, played basketball at Idaho for two seasons. She left the team during her junior year to seek medical attention.In the middle of practice, Ashley Walters would run over to the trash can, stick her head into it and vomit. Then she’d go right back to whatever the Idaho women’s basketball team was working on.

“In a 3-hour practice, I would vomit three or four times,” she said. “It was hard because I couldn’t exercise. And I didn’t have any energy because I couldn’t eat anything.”

As painful and exhausting as her routine was, Walters tried coping with her volatile stomach for the first few months of her junior season in the Division I ranks.

But as she grew more and more concerned about her long-term health, the former Wilsonville High School forward decided to step away from her college team — and the sport she’s loved since she could hold a miniature toy ball in her hand.

“It got to the point where I was so fed up and so frustrated, and I just couldn’t see it getting better within the year,” she said. “I knew basketball was a huge reason why my stomach was getting worse and worse. I thought about redshirting, but after a few months of that I was just done. It wasn’t worth it to me anymore. My health was more important. I just needed to remove myself and take care of myself. Now, when I look back, it was the best decision.”

Walters had never experienced trouble with her stomach prior to her current predicament, which has baffled doctors for months.

She thinks it all started before her third year with the Vandals, when she got the stomach flu. As she expected, most of the typical symptoms eventually subsided. The dismal digestive conditions did not.

Initially, though, Walters was determined to continue playing. She appeared in five of her team’s first six games, although she averaged just 9.6 minutes per game. Her season-opening stretch included 4 minutes of action in a road loss to Montana in late November, which ended up being the final playing time of her career at Idaho.

“I would play for a minute, then come right out and throw up,” she said. “And it’s hard to stay motivated when you’re throwing up all day. I would get to play 40 seconds at a time. It was really discouraging.”

Exacerbating the situation, according to Walters, were miscommunications between the doctor, the trainer and coach Jon Newlee.

“The trainer said, ‘You’re not going to get better until you stop throwing up,’ but they wouldn’t let me sit out,” she said. “I would ask, ‘Can I please take a break?’ but they kept having me work out.”

By early December, her discomfort had become unbearable. So, when the Vandals left for a two-game road trip in southern California, Walters didn’t travel with her team. Instead, she returned home to Oregon for medical attention.

She met with several doctors, who discovered inflammation and lesions. She underwent a battery of tests. She even had surgery. As for a definitive conclusion regarding her condition, however, Walters came up empty-handed.

“They still haven’t been able to figure it out,” she said. “Stomach problems, from what I’ve learned, are difficult to diagnose. It’s a long process. It’s still happening, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. They haven’t quite figured it out yet, but we’re getting there.”

Meanwhile, Walters knew she would be putting her health inby: IDAHO ATHLETICS - Ashley Walters was a capable offensive player at Idaho, but she took more pride in her role as a defensive shot-blocker. jeopardy if she stayed the course as a student-athlete at Idaho. She ended up leaving the university altogether at the end of the first semester.

For the 6-foot-3 post player, the decision halted what had been a promising collegiate career on the court.

As a freshman, Walters earned playing time in 24 games and became the program’s first player since 2003 to log a double-double in her debut with 12 points and 11 rebounds. In her sophomore campaign, she started in five of the 30 games in which she played, shot 41% from the field and made 71% of her free throws.

Walters was also a commanding force for the Vandals at the defensive end.

She rejected eight shots on the road against Oregon as a freshman, tying for No. 3 on Idaho’s all-time list for blocks in a single game. She finished the season ranked second in the Western Athletic Conference in blocks despite averaging just 7.4 minutes per game.

The following year, Walters climbed onto the program’s top-10 lists for blocks in a season (47) and career blocks (79).

But it was nothing new for the athlete who averaged 5.5 blocks per game as a senior at Wilsonville and finished her prep career with 334 blocks, a school record.

“I’ve never really been a super offensive player,” she said. “Even in high school, scoring wasn’t at the top of my priority list. Blocking shots was. That feeling of ‘I rejected you’ gave me more adrenaline. It was the thing I wanted to do the most. It was always something that came natural to me, and it’s something I prided myself on. In college, I did pretty well. I just love that feeling. ‘You want to shoot over me? OK.’ And I have some pretty long arms.”

Those long arms hint at the extent to which basketball is built into her body.

Her parents, Jeanne Kenczka-Walters and Greg Walters, had careers in the sport and played at the collegiate level — both at Montana State. Her father was a founding board member of the Wilsonville Basketball Association and an AAU coach for several years.

Indeed, those facts made her departure from the sport even more difficult.

“They have pictures of me dunking on Little Tikes hoops,” she said. “It’s taken time for me to realize just how much basketball did have an impact on my life.”

The sport was a major element of high school life for Walters, who received second-team all-state honors and also earned a spot on the all-tournament first team after leading the Wildcats to the OSAA championship game as a senior in 2010. They fell to Portland-Jefferson in the finals, 50-40.

“I’m still bummed about that,” she said.

Even so, recalling her days at Wilsonville immediately brought a smile to Walters’ face. In her final year, she was part of a stacked starting lineup that also featured Megan Arnoldy, Kellie Krueger, Emily Dungey and Alyssa Clark. She also noted the lasting guidance of longtime coach Cindy Anderson, with whom she still keeps in touch.

“It was a great team to be with,” she said. “It’s just cool to look back and say that basketball really contributed to giving me something in my life that I won’t get anywhere else.”

Walters said her journey to the collegiate ranks was bolstered by her participation on Team Concept, a Portland-based AAU squad. She was recruited by several programs, and she committed to Idaho early in her senior year following a visit to Moscow, Idaho.

“It was everything I was looking for,” she said. “I was like, ‘That’s where I want to go.’ It just felt right.”

But as she began the second half of her career with the Vandals, her stomach wasn’t feeling right at all.

Walters said she heard from a few Division II schools after leaving the program, but she declined their offers. She wouldn’t have been able to give any team her best effort.

“I would not be able to survive a full college workout — I can hardly run a few miles on the treadmill,” she said. “I felt like I would fall back into the same situation. It’s not looking too bright right now. It’s something I do think about because I miss being on a team and having that kind of bond, but it’s not looking too bright.”

Over the last several months, Walters has tried to fill the vast void left by basketball with other activities.

She has rekindled her interest in photography. She has taken up yoga in a big way. She has worked for a cleaning services company and looked into starting her own business.

In the fall, she’ll return to school at Portland State and study business.

Still, Walters has never let basketball completely out of sight.

For a short while, she was in discussions with Anderson about joining the Wilsonville coaching staff as an assistant. She might take that route in the future.

In March, Walters watched intently as her former Idaho teammates battled Seattle in the conference tournament title game with an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament on the line.

“CANT STOP SCREAMING,” she tweeted. “LETS GOOOOOOOOOOO LADIES FINISH THIS OUT!!!!! #vandals”

Idaho ended up edging the Redhawks in a 67-64 triumph, clinching its first trip to the Big Dance since 1985. The team earned a meeting with perennial powerhouse Connecticut in the opening round a week later, falling 105-37.

“I was proud of them,” Walters said. “But it was bittersweet.”

Walters certainly was not yet accustomed to being a spectator.

In May, she figured out that she had gone 5 months without touching a basketball. It was a gut-wrenching realization.

“It was taken from me, and it hurts,” she said. “I’ll always miss it. But it’s always around. I can always play in the future.”



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