Ashley Emery isn’t the talkative type, but she is a listener and that helped transform the senior’s game this season at Madison Area Memorial High School, where she was tasked with filling the huge scoring void left behind last fall by graduation.

“I remember one time this summer I had to specifically say to her, ‘I need you to take 10 shots in this scrimmage,'” Madison co-coach Erin Wood said. “And it’s funny, because she doesn’t really say anything. She just goes out there and does it.”

And Emery kept on doing it, surpassing expectations and leading the Bulldogs to their first Class C South championship in school history. For her efforts, Emery is the Morning Sentinel Girls Soccer Player of the Year. Waterville’s Mackenzie St. Pierre was also considered.

As a junior, Emery tied for the team lead with 11 assists as a central midfielder, most all of which went to Madeline Wood who led that 2016 side with 25 goals. When this season began, Madison needed to find a way to replace that goal total.

So, they turned to Emery, and she delivered — going above and beyond to lead the team in both goals (28) and assists (13). She opened the campaign with three straight hat tricks, and by the fourth game of the season, she’d nearly matched her 2016 total (11).

“My coaches kept saying that I needed to shoot more — and that’s how I felt,” Emery said of needing to fill the void left behind by Wood. “We knew we were going to be a good team and be contending, but still had a little doubt that we could get (to the state final). We were going to try as much as we could.”

Emery was a big reason why. It’s not easy for a senior to completely change their approach to the game, but that’s exactly what Emery was asked to do. After spending two seasons as a starter in the middle of the field focusing on ball distribution and defending, suddenly becoming a more selfish player didn’t necessarily come easily.

Co-coach Michael Walsh acknowledged that it can be difficult for a player to take on a new role — even if it’s from the same position on the field.

“She was the centerpiece of our midfield, and she was very effective there this year,” Walsh said. “In the past, she deferred to others, and she did that very well. We didn’t coach her to do that, she naturally chose to defer to Madeline. This year, we needed her to carry more of the scoring load.”

Within the confines of Emery’s game, that meant adding a few more attacking runs off the ball, trying to penetrate the 18-yard box with the ball on her feet and looking to generate shots from inside of 20 yards.

That’s exactly what she did. In the third game of the season, trailing 3-1 to an upstart Winthrop squad, Emery poured in three goals in the final 10 minutes of the second half to complete a 4-3 comeback victory. And, as the year went on, it became more difficult as the opposition began marking her specifically within their game plans.

“It definitely messes with your game a lot,” Emery admitted. “It’s much harder to do what you usually do when that happens.”

Emery’s goal-scoring isn’t even what separates her and earned her honors as the Mountain Valley Conference’s best player this season. It was her ability to do everything else, too.

“She had the ability at any given moment to own the middle of the field,” Wood said. “When she decided that she was going to keep the ball a little more, she usually made a good play of it. She looked to penetrate more and not just pop the outside shot. She stepped up her scoring, but she’s also an invaluable defender in the middle. She can track back, almost in stealth, and take the ball back without opponent even knowing she was coming.

“When she was doing those things, that’s when we were most successful, for sure.”

For Emery, who would rather undergo a root canal than talk about herself, it’s no surprise that her favorite moment from the season was winning the regional championship over rival Monmouth — the only team to beat the Bulldogs during the regular season.

“We got our revenge against Monmouth, and history was made,” Emery said. “It was really special and it meant a lot.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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