A few fun facts about Ada, the small Oklahoma town that Charlotte High volleyball standout Ashleigh Miller will soon call home:
• Blake Shelton was born and raised there.
• So was evangelist Oral Roberts and former NFL players Mark Gastineau and Jeremy Shockey.
• The local motto is “Small town, big opportunity.”
• But, you guys, Blake Shelton!
OK, so Miller does have an affinity for the country singer, but the real reason she will be trading Florida sun for Oklahoma wind is East Central University. The school offered her a spot not long after seeing video of her in action for the Tarpons.
“It’s a nice school and what I really like about it is it’s different from home, but at the same time it is like home,” Miller said Monday following the Tarpons’ sweep of DeSoto County on Senior Night.
Charlotte’s four seniors – Miller, Bella Desjardins, Brooke Davidson and Molly Swiontek – were honored Monday in case COVID-19 forced a premature end to the volleyball season before the final scheduled home match next month.
Miller is one of a group of area seniors who will be continuing their volleyball careers in college, joining Port Charlotte’s Azyah Dailey (Clemson) and Alicia Kowalski (Tampa) as well as DeSoto County’s Adriana Barrera (Pasco-Hernando).
Miller had yet to begin her college visitations when the pandemic quarantine began, so many of her visits were of the virtual variety. Over the summer, she went to a camp in Oklahoma and took the opportunity to visit East Central in person.
“There’s Blake Shelton literally everywhere in that town,” she said with a laugh. “You look at one corner and there’s a mural or a statue. It’s such a cute little town.”
Though it is a completely different environment and culture, Miller said there was something about the town of 17,000 reminded her of home, giving her the opportunity to feel comfortable while experiencing new things.
“I feel like I’m not leaving, but I am leaving,” Miller said. “I love the coach and I love the team and the best part is it snows. Now I know it snows in Oklahoma, so I’m excited. They have snow days, so I get to experience snow days. It’s kind of cool.”
SMALL TOWN, BIG TIME
The road to Oklahoma began two years ago when Charlotte coach Michelle Dill told Miller, then a sophomore, she was being promoted to varsity prior to a tournament in Tampa. At the time, Miller liked volleyball, but it wasn’t quite a passion.
Bella Desjardins, Miller’s best friend, knew as a freshman that Miller was capable of doing whatever she wanted on the volleyball court.
“Our freshman year, I think at that point, me and the coaches and everyone knew that she had a very special talent and I don’t think she realized it until she got called up to varsity,” Desjardins said. “I knew as soon as she was called up that she was going somewhere.”
Miller’s impact was immediate. She recorded 111 blocks during that sophomore season, the third-best season total in school history. After collecting more than 90 blocks this past season, Miller could finish her Tarpons career among the school’s all-time top three.
Dill’s parents and Miller’s parents have known each other since Dill’s childhood and the two families live on the same street. Following that 2018 tournament, Miller’s mother texted Dill a picture of the sophomore sprawled on her bed, sound asleep.
“She sent me the picture of Ashleigh and said, ‘Welcome to higher-level volleyball,’” Dill said. “She said she slept for 10 hours straight.”
Not long after Miller awoke, she knew what she wanted.
“I was really nervous, but when I actually started playing and getting a lot of playing time, I was like, OK,” she said. “That was when I really decided I wanted to go to college and play the sport. Thank goodness I was on the team my sophomore year because now I’m getting to go to college for it.”
Miller will become the ninth Tarpon to play collegiate volleyball during Dill’s tenure and the 30th since 1987. Dill herself was a standout at Port Charlotte High in 2000 who went on to play at Western Carolina.
When it came to the qualities that attracted the attention of college programs, Dill said adaptability was Miller’s calling card.
“Her versatility on the court is a big thing,” Dill said. “I don’t know that she’ll play middle in college. They’ll probably be looking at her playing outside, but her ability to jump and the fact she’ll just keep getting stronger and quicker as she moves up in level is key. She can hang up in the air.”
East Central liked what they saw in Miller’s videos that they offered her a spot without speaking with Dill.
“The coach really liked her and just told her she would be on the of the main people on the court,” Dill said. “That just summed it up for her. That’s where she wanted to go.”
After growing up together, Miller and Desjardins will part ways upon graduation. Desjardins, a standout basketball player, most recently visited Florida Southern College.
It’s a bittersweet time for each.
“It was just so fun growing up with her and improving together and here we are now, as seniors and we’ll be going to our two different teams,” Miller said.
Desjardins was the first to retweet Miller’s Twitter post revealing her commitment to East Central.
“She didn’t even realize she had so much potential,” Desjardins said. “Now, to see where she is committed? It’s amazing to see her continue her dream.”
And perhaps she can catch a glimpse of Blake Shelton along the way.
“I know he has a house in Ada, but it’s really closed off and in the country,” Miller said with a smile. “But yeah, maybe? Hopefully?”