One of the most pleasant athletes I have had the pleasure of dealing with over the course of the season while covering the Kentucky volleyball beat is senior Ashley Frazier. In October, Frazier was named one of 10 national finalists in NCAA volleyball and the first in program history for the Senior CLASS Award.
CLASS is an acronym for "Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School". And if there is a better word to describe Frazier than "class," I've yet to hear one.
A relentless competitor on the court, Frazier takes the same mentality off the court in her everyday life. She's a model student-athlete who is currently enrolled in the MBA program at UK after finishing her Management and Marketing degree following her redshirt junior season.
Frazier knows that, while her passion is volleyball and there may be professional opportunities in the sport after her senior season, the sport is only temporary.
"School has always been a really big focus for me because while I love playing volleyball, I'm not going to be able to do it forever," said Frazier. "So making the most of this opportunity and getting an education and doing well in it was very important to me."
She has certainly made the most of her opportunities. Frazier transferred to Kentucky after two seasons of playing for Alabama. After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, Frazier helped fill a major void at the outside hitter position last season and she's continued to be a major contributor as the current kills leader for the Wildcats with 285 putaways on the season.
She's had multiple 20-kill matches this season, most recently in a 3-1 win over Ole Miss. After the match, Frazier downplayed her performance, as she usually does, and focused solely on her team. After tying her career-high in kills, above all things she was more concerned with the fact that she and her teammates had just added another win to their total.
And when asked about her nomination for the Senior CLASS Award, Frazier was quick to deflect the praise away from herself and give it to those who have helped her continue to reach new heights, both on and off the hardwood.
"It's just a huge honor and speaks to all the work we've put in over the last four years," said Frazier. "Obviously I couldn't have done any of it without everyone who has supported be along the way like my teammates, my coaches, everybody in the academic center, just pushing me to do better all the time."
As her senior season winds down, Frazier looks to be getting stronger as her supporting cast continues to push her to improve on a daily basis. Her performance has been crucial for Kentucky as the Wildcats hit the stretch run heading into the postseason.
"She has really done a lot for us physically on the court," said Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner. "In the last few weeks, she's really come into her own in terms of having a presence and having a spirit about her that is pretty important to our program."
Frazier isn't the type of leader to get the team fired up, nor is she going to be very vocal on the court. She is much more of the leader-by-example type, and her nomination for the Senior CLASS Award explains exactly why.
For her teammates, they see how she carries herself not only on the court on game day and in practice, but they also witness her success in the classroom and her service in the community.
"She's a marketing major and I'm also a marketing major," said junior defensive specialist Jessi Greenberg. "So she's setting a really good example for not only me, but everyone else on the team that you can be an elite athlete and be an awesome student too."
It takes a special person to be able to continue to practice healthy habits as a student-athlete, whether it is in the classroom, on the court or in the community. Frazier excels in all three aspects.
"She's always one of those people that since she's been here she's been a pretty consistent person," said fellow senior Christine Hartmann. "She's always been who she is, just a great person and part of that is being part of the community and stuff with the team and doing well in school. Those are all things that have always been important to her."
Frazier, Hartmann and senior libero Stephanie Klefot each have their own ways to help lead this team. Klefot is the energetic one, bringing enthusiasm on the court and getting her teammates fired up. Hartmann tends to be in charge of picking up the slack and letting her teammates know when to step it up. And Frazier leads by example.
But that doesn't mean when she talks that people don't listen. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Perceived as a quiet leader, when Frazier has something to say to her team, they know it's important.
Due to the experiences she's gone through, the way she handles herself on and off the court, and how she respects her teammates, she's earned the utmost respect from her peers. When she has something to say, it's often meaningful and impactful.
To freshman middle blocker Sara Schwarzwalder, that type of leadership is invaluable.
"She's a great leader on and off the court," said Schwarzwalder. "Obviously she gets good grades. She's a hard worker on and off the court. She's a role model. She's great. I love her."
While Hartmann is more likely to challenge her teammates and isn't afraid to get after them when they need it, Frazier is a more calm, detail-oriented speaker when she needs to get her point across.
"She doesn't just say stuff to fill space," said Schwazwalder. "She says stuff that's meaningful and she has thought about and witnessed on the court.
"She's great to hear her past experiences or just to talk about 'This spot's open.' She doesn't do it in a way that's in your face but in a way that's calm and collected."
Now the team is collecting wins while Frazier is collecting votes. Since Frazier has been so giving of herself to the University of Kentucky, her team and the community, the Big Blue Nation is now returning the favor as the campaign for Frazier to win the Senior CLASS Award. Her teammates tweet about voting for her daily, encouraging their followers to do the same.
So far all the efforts are working as just recently Frazier moved into first place in the online voting, which counts for a third of the final vote.
The support has been overwhelming for Frazier and nothing says "class" more than a gracious individual. And as you can guess, Frazier is exactly that.
"It's really awesome," said Frazier of being first in the fan vote. "I'm super thankful for all of the support I'm getting. Everybody at home and everybody in the UK community just backing me, I'm really appreciative of that kind of support."
As of Friday morning, Frazier held a slim lead in voting for the Senior CLASS Award. Fans can vote once a day at this link.