It's immediately apparent that Canyon Del Oro senior third baseman Katie Asher knows how to balance fun with her role as an integral part of the 21-1 Dorado softball team’s quest for a third straight state title (not a second, as previously reported).
"We just finished the dance from Slumdog Millionaire," said Asher on Monday, directly after practice. “We know the whole thing.”
Learning the intricate dance, also known as the "Jai Ho," (viewable at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPvPUk96vb0) – a series of foot and hand movements, some resembling a boxer’s uppercut — is fitting for the 5-10 senior. She’s been known to hand opponents a knockout blow from time to time.
State runner-up Sahuaro knows that better than most – in last year's state title game, with a 2-2 count and two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, Asher crushed a home run over the center field wall to tie the game at 2-2. CDO went on to win, 3-2.
For that and a full season of outstanding performances, Asher, led into softball at the age of four by her older sister Brittany, earned second team All-America honors on the Louisville Slugger-National Fastpitch Coaches Association squad, joining teammate Kenzie Fowler as the only two Arizonans accorded that honor, and one of 48 players nationwide to make the cut.
In addition to national recognition, Asher's .476 batting average, 14 home runs (12 in the regular season – a state record) and 39 RBIs caught the eye of Oklahoma State University head softball coach Rich Wieligman, who offered the junior a scholarship she later accepted.
"I went to campus on my unofficial visit and it was just beautiful," said Asher. "(During the official visit), I could also tell the coaches had my best interests at heart."
While her future with the Cowgirl softball team makes Asher "excited, but nervous," her immediate focus is her past and present with the Dorados.
"I don’t want to leave, I just love all the girls," said Asher. "And the team is doing so well; fantastic."
Much of that success is due to Asher herself.
In 2009, Asher has amassed a .400 batting average, an on-base percentage of .465, a slugging percentage of .617 and 18 RBIs.
That reliability, and the leadership that stems from it, is something that CDO head coach Amy Swiderski has come to rely upon from the four-year starter.
"Katie brings a lot of passion for the game," said Swiderski. "She has a great bat, and she’s one of the best third basemen in the country."
"But probably the best thing about Katie is she has a great personality," said Swiderski. “She makes the season a lot of fun.”
"We look to Katie for leadership, she can be counted on to make the right decision and to be responsible," added the coach. "That's what we really look for in our seniors, to guide the freshmen, on the field and off."
It is that combination of athleticism and personal growth that gains some of the highest praise from Swiderski.
"I've known Katie since she was eight years old," said Swiderski. "It's been really great to watch her grow up and mature. She's really developed into an amazing young lady."
Asher's development will not stop with the end of her career as a Dorado, but for the senior, her goal entering the season remains the same now that it is halfway over.
"Go out with a bang," said Asher, who hopes to be a pharmacist after college, with a laugh. "And win another state championship."
Holding up three fingers on her right hand and looking slightly more serious, she added, "Three-peat."