LOGAN — Alyssa Evans doesn’t know former Amanda-Clearcreek standout Michelle (Estell) Smith, but the senior point guard has nonetheless looked up to her.
“When I started my freshman year of high school, I wanted to help turn our girls basketball program around, because they hadn’t had a lot of success and I also wanted to leave a legacy,” Evans said. “It’s weird looking back on it because I don’t know Michelle, but I’ve always looked up to her due to all the records she owns and the great player she obviously was in high school.
“She gave me something that I wanted to shoot her. I wanted to leave a legacy here at Amanda-Clearcreek like she did.”
Evans has already helped to lead the Aces to a league and district championship and added to her list of accomplishments on Monday by passing Smith as the school’s all-time leading scorer in basketball, regardless of gender.
The senior point guard entered a non-league game in Logan 10 points away from breaking Smith’s scoring record of 1,640 points.
Following a drive from the left wing for her first two points on Monday evening, Evans quickly found a hot hand from three-point range.
The senior point guard drilled a three-pointer from the right wing and then drained another triple, just to the right of the top of the key.
“I felt more confident shooting the three tonight after I’ve been iffy with it for much of the season,” Evans said. “(Assistant coach Greg Glendenning) told me before the game if I didn’t attempt at least eight threes that I was going to be in trouble, so that was a pretty good start.”
Needing two more points to surpass the record, Evans took a cross-court pass from Katelynn Connell, paused a moment and then drained a 22-foot three-pointer from the left wing to make history.
“I gained a lot of confidence after I made those first two threes and everything was just flowing for me,” Evans said. “I didn’t know I had broke the record until I turned around and looked at the scoreboard. It said I had 11 points and I needed 10 coming into tonight.”
The game was then stopped so Evans could be recognized for the achievement and receive a hand from the assembled crowd.
“Everyone has been counting this down all year,” Evans said. “My coaches, my teammates, my family and the community have wanted me to do this and to finally do it feels amazing. It was nice to be recognized by everyone.
“I have to thank my coaches, teammates, family and the community for giving me a ton of support.”
Evans went on to tie her career-high with 35 points, shooting 10 of 18 (55.6 percent) from the field and 9 of 11 (81.8 percent) from the free throw line, as the Aces fell 59-58 in overtime after rallying from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit.
“To break the record and have a game like I did tonight, it’s going to give me a lot of momentum going into the tournament, and that’s the most important thing,” Evans said. “I’m proud to have the record, but I’m also proud of the way we battled back as a team and continued to fight and give ourselves a chance to win.
“If we continue to do that moving forward and make a couple of more plays and shots, then I feel we can put together another tournament run.”
Amanda-Clearcreek coach Cary James has become accustom to witnessing the exploits that Evans displayed on a rainy evening in Hocking County.
“I’ve been coaching for 32 years and Alyssa’s one of the most prolific scorers that I’ve ever seen or had the pleasure to coach,” James said. “She wants the ball in her hand, she wants to take the shot in crunch time or create a great shot for one of her teammates if she isn’t open.
“She has grown so much as a player over the last three years, and I’m so proud of her and happy she now owns the all-time scoring record here at Amanda.”
Evans quickly broke into the Aces’ starting lineup during her freshman season and gave the team another scorer to go with guards Haley Hedrick and Jaidee Collins, and post player Maddie Snider.
The Aces finished the 2016 season with a 15-10 record, their first winning campaign in five seasons and advanced to the district tournament for the first time since 2010.
“As a freshman and sophomore, I had to rely on the three a lot, because I wasn’t a very good free throw shooter and I wasn’t strong enough to drive to the rim,” Evans said.
The Aces made a coaching change prior to Evans’ sophomore season, bringing in James — a long-time assistant coach with Bloom-Carroll’s boys basketball program — who brought a passionate approach to coaching.
“Honestly, it was hard to get used to Coach James because there was a lot of pressure and he wasn’t very nice to me. He has a very direct and blunt coaching style,” Evans said. “There were some days that it sucked and I wanted to cry, but he told me he was trying to make me a better player and I saw that I was becoming a better player.
“Coach James made me do things I was uncomfortable with in practice, because the only way you can become comfortable with those things and add them to your game is through a lot of repetition. I’m the player I am today, because of how hard Coach James pushed me and how much he believes in me.”
The hard work paid off for Evans and her teammates during her sophomore season, as the Aces finished with a 22-3 record, won the Mid-State League Buckeye Division championship for the first time since 2009 and returned to the district tournament.
Taking the lead
Evans was one of three scorers who averaged double-figures for the Aces in 2017, but she was the only returnee last season due to graduation.
“There was a lot of focus on me since I was really the only scorer we had back from my sophomore season,” Evans said. “I had to take responsibility for the team and myself.
“I saw some triangle-and-two defense with Haley Hedrick during my sophomore season, but last season I started to see the triangle-and-two where teams would just put both girls on me or have the other girl help when I got in the lane. If you name the defense, I’ve probably seen it last season or this season.”
Evans knew she’d need to step up her scoring as a junior and would also have the added responsibility of being the team’s point guard.
“I’ve become a much stronger player mentally and that goes back to the work I’ve done with Coach James,” Evans said. “I had to be strong mentally to handle the basketball. I also had to become a lot more patient and had to create offense, both for my teammates and myself.”
Evans increased her scoring output from 14.5 points as a sophomore to 20.7 points per game last season, but saved the best for last.
The Aces entered the Division III Central District tournament seeded fifth and returned to the district semifinal round for the third consecutive year.
Evans turned in the best game of her career so far against second-seeded Cardington-Lincoln, scoring a career-high 35 points and willing the Aces back from a 16-point deficit to a stunning 56-55 victory.
“When you have the best player on the floor, you always have a chance to win,” James said. “And when the best player takes her game and elevates it to such an elite level, you have the ability to beat a team we honestly had no business in beating, like Cardington-Lincoln.
“In that game and over the last couple of seasons, our kids have played good defense and they’ve accepted their roles and given us everything they had. When you take that and put it with Alyssa taking her game to an elite level, we can be a pretty good team.”
The Aces went on to defeat Pleasant 45-26 to win their first district championship since 2009, and completed the season with a 21-6 record. Evans finished the tournament averaging 24 points per game.
Becoming a complete player
Despite her growing success on the hardwood, Evans still saw a number of areas she wanted to work on as she prepared for her senior season.
“When I looked back on last season, I was still too reliant on the three,” Evans said. “I knew I needed to get in the weight room and get stronger, so I would not only have the confidence but the ability to drive to the basket.
“I worked on my shot fake to get by defenders and I also worked a lot on my free throws, both in practice and shooting 50-to-60 free throws when I worked by myself.”
The results have even surprised Evans.
“I’m shooting 83 percent from the free throw line so far this season,” she said. “If you told me I’d shoot something like that a few years ago, I would say you’re dreaming. I’m also shooting a lot less threes, because Coach James has encouraged me to get to the basket to score, get fouled or create for one of my teammates when the defense collapses on me.”
Evans is also proud of holding the school’s all-time record for career assists, as she’s averaging 5.5 per game this season.
“Alyssa has the ball in her hand about 90 percent of the time and she causes a lot of disruption for our opponents, both through scoring and creating opportunities to score for her teammates,” James said. “There are scorer’s who are selfish with the basketball, but that’s not Alyssa. Alyssa likes to score, but she also has a smile on her face when she sets up one of her teammates to score.”
Evans enters the tournament as one of the top scorers for the second consecutive season in the Central District, averaging 18.9 points.
The Aces are once again seeded fifth in the district tournament, and Evans would like to cut down another net before she takes off her orange-and-black uniform for the final time.
For that goal to be met, Evans will likely need to replicate her tournament performance from a season ago.
“We’re playing good team defense and we have the ability to make a run if we put some good games together as a team,” Evans said. “I know there are a lot of expectations and people looking to me as a scorer, but that’s something I’ve adapted to over the years and something that I can shoulder.
“I want to have another good tournament, like I did last year. It’s special when your teammates, your coaches and the fans look up to you and they expect you to come through, and you’re able to.”
When the Aces eventually conclude their season, Evans will continue playing basketball with Ursuline College, an NCAA Division II school located in northeast Ohio.
“(Coach Shannon Sword) feels like my style of play will fit in perfectly with what they do,” Evans said. “I went up to watch them earlier this season at Ohio Dominican and they need a scorer, which is a role I hope I can step in as a freshman and help the team.
“They believe in me, they wanted me and it was nice to sign before the season, so I could just focus on my senior season, playing the best I can and without the distraction of looking for a college.”