“NOAH! NOAH! NOAH!,” The Iola homecoming crowd chanted on Friday as the Mustangs’ No. 2 prepared to check in for the first time all season.
For senior Noah Ashmore, it was an emotional moment to say the least. In the first week of practice back in November, Ashmore tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The injury has derailed his hopes of suiting up in the Iola blue and gold for both basketball and baseball.
“We were doing this rebounding drill, and I don’t really know what happened,” Ashmore said. “I just heard a loud pop, and I knew it was bad.”
The first thought that popped into Ashmore’s head was the realization he would never get to play with his teammates again. Last season, Ashmore sparingly featured for the Mustang varsity squad, but was fully aware his role was to increase for his senior season.
Throughout the off-season, Ashmore honed his skills, and was looking forward to going out with a bang in his final ride for the Mustangs.
Mustangs head coach Luke Byrcroft emphasized that Ashmore’s injury was a huge loss.
“He was our best true ball handler,” Bycroft said. “And he can shoot the ball. He can shoot it from the 3-point line, and he finishes on the move well. Offensively, he would have helped us a ton with his understanding of the game, and had varsity experience in the past.”
Ashmore hasn’t been able to attend team practices due to his current rehab schedule, but is present at each game cheering on his fellow teammates. While Ashmore is ahead of his current recovery schedule, he admits the road to recovery is a grind.
“It’s difficult right now,” Ashmore said. “The back of my leg is hurting a lot, but I’m just pushing through it.”
ON FRIDAY, Iola hosted Burlington for its annual winter homecoming. For the first time all season, Ashmore decided to ditch the hoodie and jeans for his game-day uniform.
“He decided to suit up on his own that night,” Bycroft said. “He wanted to wear his uniform and sit on the bench. When he said he was going to suit up, I already thought about it getting to a point in the game where I can get him in.”
Ashmore pinpoints that he wanted to feel like he was ready to go, and be a true teammate for his final homecoming. Although he didn’t plan on checking in at the scorer’s table, he did with under a minute to go.
“I was not ready for that,” Ashmore said. “It was kind of quick. Coach just came over and asked if I wanted to, and I wasn’t ready because I didn’t know if I could.”
Ashmore checked into the game with Burlington at the charity stripe. After the shot, Iola received possession and Ashmore gingerly walked to the corner near the Iola sideline. There, he received a pass, and fired a 3-pointer that just rimmed out to the roaring crowd’s disappointment.
Burlington received the rebound, and willingly offered Ashmore another attempt, but he declined and let the final buzzer sound. Perhaps Ashmore would rather have earned his points, but perhaps he had other reasons.
“Yeah, but I also didn’t want to keep missing,” Ashmore said. “That was a really cool moment.”
A memorable moment that’s guaranteed for a lifetime.
“I just feel for the kid, and I know it meant a lot to his family for him to get out there,” Bycroft said. “If he suits up, I’ll try to get him on the floor every chance I get just to go in and get a shot up, but we will see how that plays out.”