Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
In affixing her signature to a National Letter of Intent in the Fike High gymnasium Friday, senior multi-sport standout Ashleigh Sage placed herself in exclusive company in the Welch (Tennessee) College athletic annals.
Sage signed to continue her basketball and volleyball careers with the Flames of the National Christian College Athletic Association Division II ranks. At 6-foot-4, Sage will be the tallest female athlete to ever play basketball or volleyball at the small college that relocated from Nashville to Gallatin, Tennessee, two years ago.
Sage, the daughter of Scott and Janet Sage, smiled and shrugged at the thought her size will prompt immediate pressure.
“There’s always pressure to do well even if I was the shortest person on the team,” Sage reasoned. “But I hope to be the tallest ever that did something good and not be the tallest ever that was a flop.
“It took a while to figure out my height was a blessing and not a curse.”
Sage emphasizes her first-year goals are to find her footing, be an impact player, put in the necessary hard work and “do whatever I can to help.”
Jeff Nelson, her Lady Demons head basketball coach; Brent Secrest, her head Fike volleyball coach; and fourth-year Welch head basketball coach Katie Bryan predict success.
“Knowing her personally, Ashleigh is going to a great school,” Nelson said. “It’s a Christian school. Knowing how she and her family are strong with their religion and playing the two sports she loves to play, this is a perfect combination for her.”
Added Secrest: “This is a great opportunity for her to play the two different sports she loves and get an education. She came a long way from her junior to senior year and she can make those strides again. If she does, there’s no telling what she can do.”
Nelson and Secrest agreed Sage will benefit from her size, work ethic and confidence gained her senior year.
Commented Bryan: “She will excel in basketball and volleyball as well as spiritually. I am excited to see how she becomes a leader in all of those areas. I am going to help her live life.
“She really had a love for Welch; she jumped right in at practice. Ashleigh has a good shot around the rim and we will be working on her post moves.”
Bryan, accompanied by former player Claire Ryan, made the 10-hour trip to Wilson. The turnout also included coaches, family, teammates from both sports, friends and Brian Tippett and Brad Perry, pastors at Peace Church where the Sages are members.
A varsity volleyball player for two seasons, Sage paced Fike in kills and blocks her senior season — when the Lady Demons exited in the opening round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs. She began playing volleyball in the seventh grade.
In her senior basketball season, Sage led the 3-A Big East Conference girls ranks in blocks (88 total, 3.5 per game), rebounds (238, 9.5) and double-doubles (seven). She finished 12th in scoring with 207 points (8.3 per game). Fike reached the second round of the playoffs. Sage’s varsity career spanned three years and she has played basketball since age 7.
In reflecting on her Fike career, Sage noted she improved significantly in volleyball and stepped into a leadership role.
She acknowledged she approached basketball more seriously at the varsity level.
“It was fun to see myself grow and my teammates grow around me,” Sage reviewed. “My senior year was not perfect; there were hardships. But I feel I came out stronger. I learned a lot of hard lessons. But you have got to keep rolling and I feel like it will make me appreciate the next four years a lot.”
Sage has known since her sophomore year that Welch would be her college home. The possessor of a 4.2 grade-point average, she plans to study preMedicine.
“I guess it’s the cherry on top that they wanted me to play for them,” she said.
Sage’s parents are pleased.
“I feel great!” remarked her father and assistant Fike coach. “It’s a very nice campus (enrollment of some 400). I know they are going to care for her as an individual and not just as an athlete.”
Still, Sage was not convinced she would play sports for the Flames (15-15 in women’s basketball last season).
“But sports have been a part of my life, I couldn’t imagine not playing,” she reasoned. “I am glad to be able to play both sports; I don’t have to choose. I feel super blessed.”
Sage admits she’s leaving one family, “but I will be making new friends and family.”