SUU Women’s Basketball player Ashley Larsen is the physical embodiment of the fulfilling, yet grueling, life that comes with being a student-athlete.
The beautiful parts are enchanting and life-altering. Ashley met her husband through athletics, found a new home in Cedar City and has grown into a mature and steadfast person because of her experiences on and off the court.
The grueling parts are crushing and equally as life-altering. While she’s learned to focus on the ups, the downs have shaped Ashley’s life substantially. She struggled with leaving her first university and battled health issues.
Through it all, she’s become a beacon of positivity and courage in confronting adversity.
After graduating high school, Ashley played one season at Utah Valley University but had a strong feeling toward the end of the season that she needed to serve a religious mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
She was nervous enough about stepping away from basketball that she was afraid to tell anyone about her feeling. She pushed the impression down until it was too potent to ignore. Ashley called her parents and then her coaches and told them that she was leaving.
While her coaches assured her a spot on the team, they made no promises about her scholarship. Ashley was called to serve in the Germany Munich/Austria Mission and toward the end of her service, it was made clear that if she wanted to play basketball on a scholarship then she needed to consider other options.
“UVU was only 15 minutes away from home,” Ashley said. “Leaving was rough.”
She planned to play all four years for the Wolverines, but she was committed to her decision and followed her heart.
She had no time to mope about moving on. Former SUU Head Coach Chris Boettcher offered her a full-ride scholarship and she jumped at the opportunity.
Unfortunately, she got sick when she came home from her mission. So sick that doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Ashley was already very familiar with the cut-throat nature of Division I athletics and thought her career might be on the line.
“They decided I would redshirt because I was too sick and fatigued to play,” Ashley said. “After seeing many doctors I found out I had a parasite… That’s my biggest trial of coming [to SUU].”
Basketball has been Ashley’s passion since she was a child and she was terrified that it might come to an end. Everything was spiraling around her, and it was completely out of her control.
At one point, Ashley felt not only that her career was ending, but that her life might’ve been hanging in the balance too.
“When I was sick I thought, ‘Okay, I’m just going to end up withering away and dying.’ I was so tired all the time and I just thought ‘Let alone playing basketball again, I don’t know if I can even survive.’”
How does someone bounce back from that? This is where the happy part starts.
Ashley learned to rely on positivity and her religious beliefs to guide her through her trials. She knew what her ultimate goal was, and she never gave up her hope of playing college basketball even in her darkest moments.
“I really feel like it was God’s plan for me to continue to play.”
From there, Ashley led SUU in blocked shots during her sophomore season after redshirting. When Head Coach Tracy Sanders took over the program in 2018, she pinpointed Ashley as one of the cornerstones in rebuilding SUU Women’s Basketball.
“Ashley has come a long way,” Sanders said. “I feel like she’s become very consistent for us. Someone that we know we can rely on. We know what she’s capable of scoring wise, rebounding wise.”
Ashley credits her husband, Zach Larsen, an All-American offensive lineman on the football team, as the source of that consistency. The couple got married in 2017 after Ashley’s health settled.
They met through common friend groups. Their mutual support helps to relieve some of the stress that accompanies playing Division I sports.
Zach is commonly seen shouting at referees during basketball games when Ashley gets fouled. They’ve formed a powerful connection that never would have happened had she stayed at UVU. The couple has big plans for the future, but remains committed to the place where they fell in love.
“Zach always jokes about how we’re going to settle down in Cedar City,” Ashley said. “It reminds us of where we met and the friendships you make with your team. It reminds [Zach and I] of each other and the new home we’ve made as well as the experiences we’ve had here.”
These days, Ashley finds comfort in knowing that even though her path was not ideal, it was the right one for her. She’d never have met Zach without having to leave her dream school or battle with the terrifying mystery of unknown medical complications.
SUU is exactly where she needs to be and the lessons she’s learned will accompany her far beyond her time in Cedar City.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication